ELKHART — The recreational vehicle industry is back, and maybe even bigger and stronger than it was before the recession, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Friday morning after meeting with eight of the industry’s leaders.
“I’d say the RV industry is helping lead us out of the recession,” Daniels said about the state’s economy.
Daniels met with local RV managers and CEOs at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. Daniels said the RV industry is important not just to northern Indiana, but to the entire state.
“We’re so proud of this industry,” he said of the way the RV industry weathered the recent recession. “It was hit very hard, but the best companies — as they always do — come through it, and come through it in a stronger position than they went in.”
Daniels said Indiana actually has improved its position in the RV industry, growing from producing 60 percent of all RVs a decade ago to now making more than 80 percent of all RVs in the county.
“Five out of six RVs in the nation were built here in Indiana, and there’s only reason for that — we have the best companies, the best businesses and the best business environment,” he said.
The governor said the state worked hard to make sure Indiana came out of the recession sooner and stronger than neighboring states.
RV industry insiders told Daniels one of the biggest problems they have right now is finding the right people to fill openings at their manufacturing plants. Indiana is close to returning to its pre-recession RV production levels.
Gasoline prices and the fear of gasoline availability still continue to worry RV manufacturers, Daniels said.
“The state can’t do anything about that,” he added.
Daniels said the more important thing the state could do to help the RV industry, as well as all Indiana industries, is to ensure the state remains business-friendly.
“We’re now very near the top of every ranking of business attractiveness. We believe we have built the best sandbox around, now we have to bring it to the attention of more people,” he said.
Daniels said he never lost faith that Elkhart and the surrounding area would recover, after the region made national news as one of the hardest-hit areas in the nation. Unemployment in Elkhart County nearly topped 20 percent in the depths of the recession.
Daniels said he was confident Elkhart would rebound because it has good companies, good leadership and a great work force.
“I just wish every other part of the state had a comeback story half as strong as the one going on here,” Daniels said.