ELKHART — Many started as suppliers dedicated only to the recreational vehicle industry. Others simply reached over to Elkhart County, extending their already growing business.
RV suppliers are diverse and they’re also growing in Elkhart County, bringing more jobs to the area.
As Jarod Lippert, director of marketing for Lippert Components Inc. would put it, the list of items supplied by various companies based in Elkhart, such as Lippert Components, is long.
At Lippert Components, the list includes chassis, windows, axles, suspensions, hydraulics and furniture. Though the RV companies are its biggest clients, Lippert Components has its share of companies that are not in the RV industry it does business with, including housing and the truck, trailer and transit industries, said Lippert.
Established in Michigan in 1956 as a small steel fabrication shop, Lippert Components is now a subsidiary owned by Drew Industries Inc., which recorded in its 2011 annual report that the RV products segment accounted for 84 percent of its consolidated net sales. Drew Industries’ other subsidiary is Kinro Inc., a company that, Like Lippert Components, has corporate offices in Elkhart County.
Lippert Components has more than 5,300 employees, 34 facilities and more than 3 million square feet in manufacturing base, Lippert said.
But smaller companies are also growing exponentially in this county. Genesis Products Inc., a woods manufacturer for RV, kitchen and furniture industries, announced Feb. 4 its plans to expand operations in Elkhart County, creating up to 100 new jobs by 2016.
According to a press release, the company will invest $4 million to renovate and equip its facility on Conant Avenue.
The company, founded in 2002 by Jon Helmuth and Jon Wenger, operates four facilities in Indiana and one in Virginia.
As of now, about 70 percent of their sales are RV-related, said Helmuth.
“But we are hoping to grow in these other segments,” he said.
Genesis Products started working with the RV industry, and it was over the years that the company expanded and started covering other areas.
“We had a small, humble beginning with a handful of dedicated people,” he said. “We had one customer, we built our first machine almost from scratch and started servicing.”
Though most of the expansion will be used for manufacturing for the RV industry, Helmuth said at least a fourth of the new plant will be used for other segments.
However, despite the expansion many companies are experiencing, they are still heavily influenced by the RV industry.
“You’d probably have to look no further than when the economy hit rock bottom in 2008,” said Lippert. “The president visited Elkhart County twice and that’s because the RV industry was down, first and foremost because the class of products that RVs and watercrafts and all this other things fall under are largely expendable income type purchases.”
But as Lippert and Helmuth noted, the RV industry was also quick to adjust and continue growing after 2008.
Like many other companies prior to the 2008 recession, Genesis Products was growing and prospering. In 2007, the company was listed eighth fastest growing privately held manufacturing company in the Inc. 500 ranking, an annual ranking made by Inc. magazine.
A few months into the recession companies had to lose their business, and those who survived had to adjust to the changes, said Helmuth.
“It was a terrible time, and a lot of good companies and good people lost their businesses and jobs over the downturn.”
Now, Helmuth believes the RV industry continues to go up, and so are its suppliers.
“We regained what we lost, and now we are in the next stage, sort of a jumping point ,for the next point of growth for us.”