RV jobs and production continuing to come to Wakarusa
Posted: 03/11/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Marilyn Odendahl
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Diane McNulty & Steve Dreisbach of Monaco RV practice their putting next to the "Diplomat". (Truth Photo By Tom Fougerousse)
$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$The interior of Monaco RV’s “Diplomat.” $PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$
Truth File Photo By Tom Fougerousse
$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Production of Monaco RV’s “Diplomat” is set to move from Oregon to Wakarusa. $PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$
Truth File Photo By Tom Fougerousse
Monaco RV, a subsidiary of Navistar International Corp., is shifting all motorized production from its campus in Coburg to Wakarusa. Also it has consolidated certain administrative positions to Navistar's corporate campus in Lisle, Ill. The manufacturer has already slashed its West Coast work force by 450, according to the Portland Business Journal, and will be cutting another 255 over the next six months starting Friday.
In Wakarusa, the company has added about 100 workers to its payroll and is interviewing more with the expectation of hiring another 200 through April, said Navistar spokeswoman Karen Denning.
The first diesel motorhome chassis was put into production at the Wakarusa plant Jan. 31.
WINNER AND LOSER
The small Oregon city about 2 miles north of Eugene was not completely surprised when Monaco announced the local operation would be significantly downsized. Petra Schuetz, city administrator, said the writing had been on the wall for quite some time considering the periodic layoffs at the plant since 2008.
Still, the historic community is hurting. When Monaco was up and running in 2008, Coburg had an employment rate that was three times its population of 1,100 because the number of jobs at the facility brought in many workers from outside the town's limits.
“It's been devastating to families in the region,” Schuetz said. “You hear stories about families affected in the region. It's a real hard time for people.”
A little more than 2,220 miles to the east, Wakarusa, with a population of 1,583, is happy to have the Monaco jobs coming to town. The town has been on a roller coaster since July 2008, when the former Monaco Coach Corp. shut down all production and laid off more than 1,000 workers. It was the first indication that the coming economic recession was going to hit Elkhart County hard.
The situation improved when Navistar bought Monaco Coach in 2009, restarted it as Monaco RV and in the plant on Nelson's Parkway began manufacturing towables as well as its all-electric truck, the eStar.
However, bad news came in February with the announcement that long-time employer Utilimaster Corp. would be moving all operations to Bristol and selling its campus on S.R. 19. Utilimaster is a subsidiary of Spartan Motors Inc.
“It's great that they're going to move some of their operations here,” Wakarusa Town Council President Jeff Troxel said of Monaco. “Wakarusa can't wait for them to get started, especially with Utilimaster leaving.”
OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITY
In its most recent WARN letter filed with the Oregon Department of Community Colleges & Workforce Development, Monaco reiterated it will permanently halt production of motorized RVs and close a plant at the Coburg facility. Some of the company's operations will remain in Coburg.
The number of workers Monaco expects to lay off is almost 20 less than its previous estimate of 272. Yet the downsizing will not likely help the unemployment rate in the Eugene-Springfield area that includes Coburg, which was 9.0 percent in December. The December jobless rate in Elkhart County was 11.2 percent.
Schuetz said Coburg is focusing its economic development efforts on diversification, a theme Elkhart County economic development officials have sounded as well. The city has a cluster of businesses surrounding the RV industry with Monaco and Marathon Coach as well as suppliers and two RV parks.
Ironically, infrastructure improvements the city and state had promised to Monaco when it first arrived in the mid-1990s got off the ground within weeks of Monaco's decision to realign operations to Indiana. Construction of a new wastewater treatment system and an interchange along Interstate 5 has started in Coburg, Schuetz said.
The improvements are helping to brighten her outlook.
“I feel relatively optimistic for the future,” Schuetz said. “In regards to redevelopment, I think Coburg is a real gem along the international highway system and can attract another large manufacturer.”
EASING THE PAIN
Utilimaster has been a fixture in Wakarusa since the truck body manufacturer started operations in the early 1970s. Like Schuetz, Troxel noted the town sometimes wondered if the company would stay forever.
“It was a shock for Utilimaster to leave,” he said. “I guess, maybe we had known it was a possibility eventually, but for them to actually do it was a shock.”
The pain of losing the nearly 800 jobs at Utilimaster will be soothed by the estimated 300 workers coming to Monaco. Troxel pointed to the Subway restaurant that sits across S.R. 19 from the truck company as an example of how other businesses will feel the pinch, then get some relief. The sandwich shop, like other restaurants and gas stations, will probably lose some regular customers when Utilimaster leaves but gain new ones because of Monaco.
Utilimaster owns its facility in Wakarusa, so it will have to pay property taxes until the campus is sold. Since it unveiled plans to vacate the 16-building complex, Troxel said some other businesses have been eying the land for their operations.
The possibility of new businesses and the growing Monaco plant gives Troxel a confidence, similar to Schuetz's, that the future will be bright for his community.
“Wakarusa is resilient,” he said. “We'll be OK. I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of business come” to the Utilimaster campus.