ELKHART — The recreational vehicle business that's a major part of northern Indiana's economy is going strong this year.
A Recreation Vehicle Industry Association report show that RV shipments to retailers last month were up 29 percent from September and nearly 17 percent more than during October 2012.
That goes along with what Thor Industries President Bob Martin has seen with his Elkhart-based company, which employs about 7,600 workers in Indiana.
“Things have been positive for Thor over the last year. It's good to see (similar numbers) for the industry as a whole,” Martin told the South Bend Tribune.
Most RV manufacturers have operations in northern Indiana. Elkhart County, just east of South Bend, saw thousands of layoffs from RV factories early in the recession, leading it to have one of the state's highest unemployment rates for a couple years.
The county's jobless rate peaked in 2009 at 18.9 percent. It was 7.4 percent for last month.
Industry leaders are optimistic about the rebound continuing.
“Strong trading and significant milestones within the stock market continue to bolster the economy and consumer confidence,” said Matt Rose, director of recreational vehicles for Indiana Manufactured Housing Association, Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council Inc.
The industry's 10-month total for this year is only about 8,000 shipments behind the year-end total for 2012. And 2012 was the third straight year of beating previous-year shipment numbers.
Martin said he believed RV sales were expanding beyond the industry's base among baby boomers, with younger generations becoming more frequent buyers.
“We are still looking at an industry that the economics have improved every year since the recession,” he said.
Martin said he doesn't expect big sales spikes coming other than in motor homes. But sales of towable trailers have been returning to pre-recession levels and could still have incremental growth.
“We are all very thankful for the recovery,” he said. “It was a trying time.”