Updated: Winnebago Announces RV Plant Opening in Junction City

by Wendy on December 2, 2015

by: Saul Hubbard (www.registerguard.com)

In a huge boost to a once-thriving Lane County business sector, Winne­bago Industries, the iconic Iowa-based recreational vehicle maker, plans to open a manufacturing plant in Junction City.

Winnebago expects to hire up to 200 employees, as it ramps up production over the next 18 months, company vice president Scott Folkers told the Lane County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Production workers will be paid an average of between $16 and $20 an hour — or $33,280 to $41,600 a year — plus benefits. Supervisors and managers will make between $45,000 and $125,000 annually.

Winnebago this week finalized its purchase of the former Country Coach recreation vehicle manufacturing plant in the southeast corner of the city. The company will retain the 35 employees that work in Country Coach’s RV service center at the site, and continue to operate the service center.
Winnebago will spend between $15 million and $20 million on the land purchase and on factory improvements and modifications, Folkers said. The company plans to make Winnebago diesel RVs at the factory, up to 1,000 motor homes a year.

The company also has purchased Country Coach’s intellectual property rights, and is considering manufacturing some RVs under that brand in the future. Country Coach’s models are typically more expensive than Winnebagos, Folkers said.

“We’re very excited to be bringing the Winnebago tradition to Lane County,” Folkers said.

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $100,000 economic development grant for unspecified infrastructure work at the plant. The grant will come from the county’s share of state video lottery revenue, which is earmarked for local economic development projects.

“There are a lot of folks who used to work in (the motor home) industry who are underemployed” in Lane County, Commissioner Jay Bozievich said.

“Adding 200 family-wage jobs to a community of 5,000…is a huge deal for rural Lane County,” he added.

Details of the grant deal will be worked out by the county’s economic development staff. Winnebago isn’t guaranteeing an exact number of jobs as a condition for the grant, however, county staff confirmed.

The plant is located in an enterprise zone, so the company will likely qualify for a three-to five-year property tax exemption on the improvements it makes to the factory and the new equipment it brings in.

The company is also expected to receive financial help from Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency. Details of that aid are still being finalized, spokesman Ryan Frank said Tuesday.

Additionally, Winnebago will receive a $77,000 matching grant from Lane Workforce Partnership to re-train the current Country Coach service center workers.

The Junction City move is a significant one for Winne­bago. The firm’s manufacturing operations are heavily concentrated in a huge factory in Forest City, Iowa — the largest motor home plant in the world.

Folkers said the company was attracted to Junction City because of the trained motor home manufacturing workforce that is present locally. The Country Club plant is a good fit for the diesel RVs Winnebago wants to build, he said.

The company isn’t expanding manufacturing in Forest City because low unemployment in northern Iowa means there aren’t enough workers locally to do so, Folkers said.

“We need more capacity,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity in Forest City to build the units we need to.”

Lane County has a history as a hub of RV manufacturing. In the early and mid-2000s, it was one of the nation’s premier RV manufacturing centers, with major factories in Junction City and Coburg, and numerous parts suppliers and contractors throughout the county. But the recession hit the industry hard and many local factories closed.

Asked about how Winnebago had survived the recession where other RV companies had failed, Folkers said the company “figured out ways to get a whole lot leaner” by shuttering factories and reducing its workforce by half, from 4,200 to 1,900. Today, the company employs 2,707 people.

“It was tough time for any company that was producing a high-end, discretionary product,” Folkers said.

To read the original article, go to Updated: Winnebago announces new plant opening in Junction City

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