ELKHART — When the Great Recession of 2008-09 slammed the brakes on many recreational vehicle production lines in Elkhart, the local companies that supply those lines were also hit hard.
Five years later, as RV industry production hits its highest levels in nearly a decade, one of those suppliers, MOR/ryde, is again enjoying a smooth ride while constantly looking for opportunities to protect against bumps in the road.
Bob Moore Jr., who owns the company with his brother, Rodney, said they are trying to walk a fine line.
"Some companies will say we don’t want to do business in the RV industry because of the ups and downs, but the truth is, every business, maybe other than food, is cyclical because people have so much money to spend and if there’s less, they’ll cut back," Bob said. "There are cycles in every other industry as well. Being in Elkhart, we’d be foolish to turn our backs on the RV industry. At the same time, we don’t want to put ourselves in a box.”
With three Elkhart plants, MOR/ryde has grown its workforce from about 180 people at the depth of the recession to 583 today. More than half of those new jobs have been added since the start of 2012, and 77 of them have been created this year.
And more are coming.
The company plans to hold its third job fair this year June 26 from noon to 4 p.m. at 23208 Cooper Drive. It will look to hire about 50 more people, focusing on second and third shifts. The hourly pay will range from $12 ($10 an hour plus a production bonus) for assembly to $18 for more skilled positions.
Like so many other Elkhart area employers, the Moore brothers say their biggest challenge is finding entry-level assembly workers. But they have had success attracting skilled and educated staff.
"We’re excited about our team," Rodney said. "We have a lot of young people. If you walk through our offices, you’ll see the average age is about 32. We give them space and tools to grow. We have veterans as well. We have a lot of engineers. We do a lot of things with technology, not just in production but the rest of our systems and processes."
MOR/ryde produces about 2,000 unique products, with its main business lines consisting of custom metal fabrication, chassis alterations and proprietary specialty products, including suspension systems and related components.
Before the recession, about 80 percent of MOR/ryde’s business was RV-related, Rodney said. At the low point of the recession this share dropped to about 55 percent, and today it’s back up to about 70 percent.
The biggest chunk of MOR/ryde’s business, chassis alteration, happens at its Cooper Street plant, which underwent an expansion last year. There, chassis are shortened or lengthened, then sold as build-ready units to area motorhome and transit bus makers. The ever-expanding array of choices that RV makers are offering consumers is good for this line of business, Rodney said.
MOR/ryde still makes the suspension systems for RVs, transit buses and pickup trucks upon which Bob and Rodney’s father, Robert Moore Sr., founded the company in 1966. But the company has branched out to everything from sliding storage products, baggage doors and television mounts for RVs, along with equipment for the personal mobility, agricultural, medical equipment and commercial trucking markets.
The company’s expansion is not only putting more people to work. It has improved the near-southside Elkhart neighborhood immediately surrounding its plant at 1966 Sterling Ave. In late 2012 MOR/ryde bought the former Moore’s Products property across Moyer Avenue and demolished the dilapidated structures. Moore Products had cleaned rugs and sold rug cleaning equipment, but mostly closed down in the late 1960s when Robert Moore Sr. conceived of his rubber-spring suspension and branched off to form MOR/ryde.
The brothers had been eyeing the vacant property for decades. It had fallen into such disrepair, creating not only an eyesore but a safety hazard, that the owner finally agreed to sell.
They could have built anew on undeveloped land outside the city, avoiding the costly asbestos removal required before demolition, but they wanted to keep the addition close to their existing plant.
In April 2013, the company completed a 36,000-square-foot addition on the north end of its existing Moyer/Sterling plant, an area that now houses its growing assembly, packaging and distribution business.
After getting the city to vacate part of Moyer Avenue, MOR/ryde in the fall of 2013 started building a 53,000-square-foot addition, targeted for completion June 15. When finished, the assembly, packaging and distribution will move to that structure, making room in the main building for lasers, press brakes and robotic welding. That expansion is expected to create another 80 jobs, Rodney said.
MOR/ryde will continue riding the RV industry’s growth wave while holding true to the slogan printed on its trucks: "Opportunity Driven." As an example, it has recently launched a new product called the Slidezilla, a patented elevated truck bed storage compartment.
"We never want to get stuck just doing what we’re doing,” Bob said. “We’re always looking to do new things. That sounds basic but a lot of companies just say, we do what we do.”