Turn back the clock to 2009, during the last recession, when RV sales nosedived. Elkhart, Indiana was the poster child for what was bad with the nation’s economy. The jobless rate in the region plunged from 20 percent that March, worst in the U.S., to just over two percent this January, half the national average. The local unemployment rate is actually closer to zero: some 9,500 jobs have no takers.
Starting around 2012, the RV industry—and, by extension, Elkhart—started to rebound sharply, largely because of the improved U.S. economy. RV shipments last year tripled to 500,000 motorhomes and towable from 2009, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports.
JOBS ARE SO EASY TO GET that fewer in the region are enrolling in college, a risky bet against another downturn. Elkhart ranks 335th of 380 metro areas in percentage residents with a college degree, the Brookings Institution found.
But even in good times, memories of the last recession—and fears about the next one—shape business and personal decisions in Elkhart. Residents squirrel away money, not sure whether to trust the boom. That makes sense, according to Mr. Hicks, the Ball State economist. In the next recession, he said, “they will be clobbered.”
Even though the money for workers is excellent employees job-hop frequently in the workers’ market. According to local manufacturers turnover in the RV industry is roughly 100 percent. Bonuses of $500 to $1,000 are commonly offered to new hires if they stay 90 days. Read more.
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