ELKHART – Elkhart County will likely lose thousands of jobs this week with the closure of RV plants operated by Thor Industries, Winnebago Industries and others.
Early Monday, Winnebago announced plans to shut down most of its operations across the country, potentially idling many of its 5,500 employees in Iowa, Indiana and Florida, including roughly 3,500 in Elkhart County.
The company said it was taking the action to protect its employees, customers and communities where it operates, but that it would cover the base pay and benefits of impacted employees with the hope of being able to resume operations on April 12.
Just a few hours later in the day, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made it official for nearly all other businesses in the region when he issued a stay-at-home order beginning Wednesday for all but the most essential travel.
The ban will impact a large swath of employers in the region.
“We’re going to follow state guidelines,” said Jeffrey Roth, vice president of marketing for Barletta Boats in Bristol. “For the past several months, we’ve been going above and beyond to protect our employees, while at the same time allowing them to come to work and take home a paycheck.”
Roth said the shutdown comes at a bad time as the pontoon-boat manufacturer has been flush with orders following successful shows in January and February. “The situation we are in is disappointing, but obviously necessary for the health and well being of our surrounding communities, which above all is the most important thing,” he said.
Thor, which is the nation’s largest RV maker, said it was taking the action because of the statewide emergencies that were declared in Indiana and Ohio where it produces a substantial portion of its products.
“The concern for the safety of our people is always paramount but the situation of today is unique and calls for action,” Bob Martin, president and CEO of the company said in a release.
“Additionally, a substantial portion of our production in Europe is temporarily suspended as well,” Martin said, adding that the company had high hopes for 2020 and believes that Thor and the industry will be poised for a quick rebound.
After working out excess inventory in 2019, the RV industry, which employs tens of thousands of people in the Elkhart region, was poised for growth this year, even while working through supply problems connected to the shutdown of factories in China that were impacted by the coronavirus.
On Monday, a representative from Lippert Components, which supplies a wide variety of products to the RV industry and also is a major employer in the region, wouldn’t comment on the impact of the governor’s order.
Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he has heard of a couple of RV companies might produce temporary isolation units that might be used by hospitals.
“I’m really impressed by the precautionary measures that have been taken,” said Yoder. But if plants are forced to close because of the governor’s order, he hopes Winnebago’s action becomes an industry benchmark to get employees through the virus shutdown.
SOURCE: South Bend Tribune