As the RV industry continues to boom, Elkhart Country Indiana is looking for workers to fill thousands of jobs. 80% of American RVs are manufactured in the area, and the workforce cannot keep up with the demand. Ironically, the Elkhart was the poster child during the ’08 recession. Unemployment was near 20% when people ceased buying RVs — but RVs are back in a big way, and workers are sorely needed to build them.
“Today the number of open, unfilled positions in our local industries is almost as critical as the lack of such positions were in 2008, when the local unemployment rate hovered around 20 percent,” said Mark Dobson, president/CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County. “We don’t have enough qualified people to fill the new jobs that are rapidly opening up on a daily basis. I know this falls in the category of ‘a nice problem to have,’ but eventually it will not be if large employers’ needs for skilled labor keep growing.”
Last year, Elkhart County had 14 significant business expansions and one company relocating into its market, creating a need for 2,500 new employees. In 2017, 10 more companies had significant growing, increasing the need for another 3,000 employees. Plus, three new companies moved to Elkhart County. Currently, there are 20 sites under construction in the market that serve the RV industry, which adds another 3,500 employee minimum demand.
Elkhart County is touting its benefits through a new website, ElkhartWorks.com.
“It’s difficult if not impossible to measure how many people may have heard about our situation on the web and moved here because of that,” said Dobson. “And it would be some time before any significant surge in job applicants locally would become evident. But we’ve gotten some positive analytics about the number of people who have visited our website at elkhartworks.org and made a quality visit — that is, they actually stayed on the site for a while to see what we have to offer. They can access our job listings right on the site. So, we see promise in this effort. It’s really a campaign that draws attention to this entire region of Indiana, including St. Joseph County.”
Elkhart is close to big communities like Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis, but the cost of living remains affordable. Pay has increased in the RV manufacturing industry, but these mostly non-union workers work long hours for pay and benefits that don’t stake up well to their counterparts in the auto industry. The opioid crisis has also hit the area hard, and drug problems have caused many issues at RV manufacturing plants among the labor force. Still, RV manufacturing is one area of the American economy that is growing blue-collar jobs.