Wakarusa Utilimaster site may have a buyer

As Utilimaster prepares to move completely out of Wakarusa, another business may be moving in and taking over the entire campus.

Posted on Dec. 28, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

WAKARUSA — The year started out with a blow to Wakarusa with Utilimaster announcing a move to Bristol, but 2013 may make up for it with another company anonymously thinking about taking over the full complex.

Spartan Motors, parent company of Utilimaster, announced in February that the company will move to Bristol, vacating the Wakarusa complex which includes 16 buildings and covers 106 acres.

That move is expected to be complete in late spring or early summer.

The announcement was a concern to Wakarusa, which was already hurt with the failure of Monaco Coach in the recession. Monaco’s acquisition by Navistar helped bring some of those jobs back to the hurting town, Troxel said.

Even as Utilimaster works on the move, there’s been uncertainty in town over the large complex, located on S.R. 19, and its future. “That Utilimaster property’s going to go quickly, I hope,” said Troxel.

“At one point there was some people interested in it through the EDC (Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County), but that kind of fell through,” Troxel said.

Brent Miller, the FM Stone agent handling the property, said there’s a promising prospect for the property. “We’re working on a deal right now with a company that we’re hoping is going to take the whole complex,” Miller said.

“It’ll be good for Wakarusa,” he said.

Marketing the property has been tough, since Utilimaster will be there for a while. “It’s been a challenge. If you want to buy something, you don’t want to find out you have to wait to move in,” he said.

The original plan was for the move to be complete this year, but John Forbes, Utilimaster president, said, “like many projects in business, you start out with a plan,” but snags come up that require plans to change.

Right now they’re building “process-validation units to prove out new production processes, tools, jigs and procedures” in the Bristol facility on Earthway Drive, Forbes said. “At this time we’re planning a production ramp-up beginning in February,” with the move to take place over the following months.

In making the announcement in February, Tom Gorman, Spartan’s chief operating officer cited reduced costs for manufacturing and increased safety. It will cut two miles of travel out of the manufacturing process for each van or truck body made by the delivery- and service-vehicle manufacturer.

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