Elkhart County manufacturing led county to top nation in job growth

Elkhart County saw the largest employment gain in the nation between September 2011 and September 2012, thanks to the manufacturing sector, which is heavy here.

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 28, 2013 at 3:29 p.m.

GOSHEN — Elkhart County led the nation in job growth between September 2011 and September 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Thursday, March 28.

“Elkhart, Ind., had the largest percentage increase in employment (6.9 percent) among the largest U.S. counties,” according to Thursday’s announcement. The national growth rate was 1.6 percent.

Manufacturing led the way in Elkhart County, gaining 4,734 jobs over that time, a growth of 10.1 percent, according to the BLS quarterly census of employment and wages. “In Elkhart County, what else but manufacturing,” said Dave Daugherty, president of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.

Manufacturing has an oversize importance to our economy, and roughly half of Elkhart County manufacturing is related to the recreational vehicle industry. That industry has seen strong growth over the last couple of years.

According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RV shipments grew 13.6 percent in 2012, and they are off to a strong start for this year, with January up 30 percent over the previous January, and February up 6 percent over the previous February.

That led to new positions at RV makers — the RVIA estimates 83 percent of all North American RVs are made in and around Elkhart County — and at RV suppliers.

Manufacturers outside the RV industry have been seeing growth, too. “Drive around the industrial park and you’ll see things are happening,” said Daugherty. “About every sector’s looking up,” with growth by firms like MasterBrand Cabinets, Benteler Automotive and Wieland Design. “It’s looking pretty good, and right now it looks like the future’s going to be pretty good, too,” he said.

Still, the BLS showed unemployment at 10.3 percent in January this year, though local officials question the accuracy of those figures.

Thursday’s announcement was the second time since the recession that the county topped national job growth, reaching the top for growth between March 2010 and March 2011.

While jobs grew over the previous September, during the same period average weekly wages dropped slightly in Elkhart County. We recorded a decline of 0.3 percent, but that still put us ahead of most of the country, which saw an average decline of 1.1 percent in weekly wages.

At the opposite end of the state, Vanderburgh County had the third largest percentage decrease in the nation for jobs over the same period.

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