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Local RV leaders unfazed by talk of recession warnings

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MIDDLEBURY, Ind. -- Is the local RV industry prepared for another downturn? After Elkhart County was hit hard by the great recession in 2008, some major shakeups within the stock market this week raise that question.

The great recession of 2008 rocked the recreational vehicle industry and the Elkhart County community, where 80 percent of all RVs are built.

Thousands of industry workers lost their jobs and Elkhart County’s unemployment skyrocketed up to 20 percent.

“I used to have a full head of hair before 2008, so it had an impact on my life. It was devastating for the community,” said President and CEO of Grand Design RV. The company, based out of Middlebury, was not around in 2008, but now it is listed as the fastest growing company ever in the history of the RV industry as it employs over 1,700 people.

“It was the perfect storm. In my 38 of experience in the industry, I had never really went through such as dramatic effect, economic effect on our industry,” said Clark. “When ’08 came, some companies didn’t make it, some dealers RV dealers didn’t make it. Some manufacturers were weakened and didn’t survive.”

But Clark says, the recession made the industry stronger by teaching valuable lessons.

“Number one, don’t over produce. Don’t build too hot too long. It’s important that manufactures build responsibly and match the demand for the product.”

The industry bounced back setting records a few years later.

But on Wednesday, the Dow dropped 800 points after the bond market flashed a warning sign about a possible recession for the first time in over a decade.

And, Clark says he’s not afraid of the talk of recessionary times.

“I do think our industry is prepared for an adjustment. An adjustment does not have to be a recessionary period of time; it’s just a rightsizing of the retail market,” he explained.

In fact, he is confident that there are more signs of good times ahead than bad.

“Consumer confidence had a tick up in July. Fuel is still at an affordable rate. Interest rates are inline, the sales of light trucks and SUV’s which is very important to our industry are strong.”

According to the RV Industry Association, shipments through June this year were down 20 percent, but Clark says manufacturers and dealers are already adjusting to the imbalance.

“Manufacturers have readjusted their production rates, they’re building more responsibly, they’re better matching the demands for the product, and even though we’ve gone through a slight dip in retail and a little bit heavier dip in wholesale because dealers are aligning their inventory, right sizing their inventory for the demand of the product today. Dealer inventories are now in line.”

Clark believes the future of the industry is bright.

“We have resilient industry. People enjoy the lifestyle, they’re not gonna give it up.”

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