Junction City Leaders Laud Winnebago’s Planned Arrival

by Wendy on December 2, 2015

by: Elon Glucklich (www.registerguard.com)

JUNCTION CITY — City leaders called Winnebago Industries’ new plant the first big sign since the recession that Lane County’s recreational vehicle industry has a pulse.

The Iowa-based RV giant plans to phase in production of its diesel vehicles at the former Country Coach plant during the next 18 months, hiring up to 200 workers.

That’s far fewer than the 1,800 employees who produced Country Coach RVs a decade ago, before the recession.

But it’s welcome news for a town still reeling from several thousand lost manufacturing jobs, Mayor Mike Cahill said.

“We have highly skilled, trained people here in the area that were displaced due to the loss of all those jobs in 2008 and ’09,” he said. “So we’re really excited as a community about getting some of those people back to work.”

Some laid off RV workers found new jobs with related firms, including those in the former Monaco Coach plant in Coburg, which developer Steve Lee has converted into the Coburg North Industrial Park.

Marathon Coach in Coburg was forced to downsize during the recession, but it held on and now has more than 200 workers.

Other former RV workers went back to school to re-train in new fields or took lower-paying jobs.

Winnebago’s plans come amid a revival in the RV industry. RV manufacturers shipped 356,700 vehicles to dealers nationwide last year, the highest total since 2006, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. From 2008 to 2012, the annual average was 236,000.

An improving economy is prompting more workers to retire by choice, said Brian Rooney, a regional economist with the state Employment Department. Many are moving from the Midwest to the coasts, where they’re opening their wallets for big-ticket items like RVs.

Those trends could be leading firms like Winnebago to go west for growth.

“The western U.S. is kind of RV country,” Rooney said. “Most of the RV manufacturers have been centered in the Midwest, so it might be a good idea for them to establish a West Coast presence.”

Winnebago officials on Tuesday said their Iowa plants were operating at capacity, leading them to move their diesel RV operations to Junction City.

Besides occupying the 104,000-square-foot Country Coach headquarters at 135 E. First Ave., Winnebago has an agreement to use the 80,000-square-foot complex across First Avenue from the headquarters, spokesman Sam Jefson said.

The Lee family, which founded Country Coach, owns both buildings, Lane County property records show.

Winnebago’s plans were a mystery to Junction City officials until about a week ago.

“Winnebago hasn’t communicated a lot with the city,” Jason Knope, city administrator for Junction City, said. “Most of what we’ve gotten has been secondhand.”

The 200 jobs are expected to pay near or above Lane County’s $38,000 average annual wage. But they’ll barely make a dent in the thousands of RV jobs in the region that disappeared during the crash.

In 2005, Country Coach, Coburg-based Monaco and Marathon employed 4,600 Lane County residents, or roughly 3 percent of the county’s entire workforce at the time.

By 2013, just 500 employees worked in transportation equipment manufacturing across the county, a total that includes small bicycle-makers and other manufacturers, Rooney said. The 500 figure has stayed virtually flat for more than two years.

“There’s been no appreciable recovery in the RV industry in Lane County since the crash,” he said.

If Winnebago’s arrival in Junction City boosted the total to 700, it would be the highest job count for the industry since April 2012, Employment Department data show.

The loss of 4,000 Lane County jobs came as the entire RV industry downsized in the recession, University of Oregon Economist Tim Duy said.

National shipments of RVs from wholesalers to dealers is back around pre-recession levels, but many companies are still boosting production with fewer workers than in the past.

“Is this the beginning of a return to 4,500 jobs? That I’d be somewhat cautious of,” Duy said.

Still, companies that survived by getting leaner in the recession are now riding pent-up demand for their products, he said. Many are investing in big expansions, and Lane County’s slew of former RV manufacturing sites — and workers with manufacturing backgrounds — makes it a logical place for companies looking to expand.

“There are some fundamental resources relative to RV manufacturing that are still in the region,” Duy said. “And sooner or later it’s likely somebody is going to try to take advantage of those resources.”


To read the original article, go to Junction City leaders laud Winnebago’s planned arrival

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: