Forest River Builds Strong West Coast Presence

by Wendy on September 4, 2014

Forest River Builds Strong West Coast Presence
by Dave Barbulesco (

As Forest River Inc. readies to ramp up production at its recently acquired manufacturing plant in Harrisburg, Ore., the builder hosted a toned-down version of the upcoming September RV Open House – in part to accommodate West Coast dealers not making the trek to Indiana’s Elkhart County.

General Manager Paul Eskritt reported that the Aug. 19-21 Open House drew strong numbers, with 137 retail personnel representing over 60 dealerships gathering at Forest River’s established manufacturing campus in Dallas, Ore., to the north of Harrisburg near Salem.

“We had 94 units on display and 32 different brands, including a lot of units that are built in Indiana,” said Eskritt, a former Fleetwood executive who joined Elkhart-based Forest River in November of 2012 and is charged with heading up both Oregon operations. “This was the fourth year for the Open House, and it has continued to grow. We were busy for the entire show and were able to sell a lot of product – enough to keep us running in Dallas and Harrisburg through the winter. There were also a lot of Indiana sales reps on hand who were writing up orders.”

In addition to providing an opportunity for local dealer partners to examine Forest River’s new lines, Eskritt noted that the event also speaks to an emerging trend on the West Coast.

“For the past few years, there seems to be a movement for dealers to be more loyal to the West Coast OEMs,” he said. “A major cause is the backlogs across the nation due to transport issues. That makes it even more important for Forest River to have a strong presence on the West Coast, which facilitated the addition of the new facility and the growth in production.”

The Harrisburg plant, purchased by Forest River in early August, closed in February when its then-owner, Allied Specialty Vehicles, decided to exit the small towable trailer market. Allied had bought the plant the previous year from Navistar Inc., which in turn had acquired it from now Monaco Coach Corp. in 2009.

Eskritt said that although some retooling was required, the facility was essentially in turnkey condition. “We purchased all the equipment, so it wasn’t a complicated process to get started,” Eskritt said, noting the plant encompasses 180,000 square feet, including around 160,000 square feet of manufacturing space capable of running three production lines.

“We’re looking at starting up production by the end of September,” he added. “Initially, we’re going to build our Vibe lightweight hardwall trailer, which is new to the West Coast market. We have management and sales personnel in place and we have started to add production group leaders. We will be bringing on assemblers over the next couple of weeks. We’ll start with one a day, then two a day, and then continue to ramp up through the winter. We’re looking to have around 30 assembly workers when we completely shore up production.”

He said that by winter the Harrisburg plant would be running Forest River’s Cherokee trailers down a second line, also resulting in increased employment. “Depending on market conditions, which have really improved in the past couple of years, we’ll eventually open up a third production line with a new brand or another ‘like’ product that caters to the West Coast market.”

The plant’s proximity to former RV hotbeds in Eugene and Coburg has benefited the hiring process. “There is no shortage of skilled workers as there were a lot of manufacturers in this area,” Eskritt said. “We’re hearing from local officials that the acquisition will be a big economic boost to the area.”

Harrisburg production will complement manufacturing in Dallas, which has grown to include around 250 workers assembling Forest River’s Salem, Wildwood, Cherokee Grey Wolf, Cherokee Wolf Pup and Wildcat MAXX towable lines.

“We had a really strong couple of years at the Dallas factory,” Eskritt said. “The West Coast lagged a little behind other areas after the recession hit, but it’s rebounded nicely.

“The main reason behind our success is that we have a really good dealer body. We saw that at the Open House. Our focus is to keep building on those relationships and, in turn, building business.”

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