The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 11, 2021 1:00 am

RV maker expects to add 500 jobs in Ligonier

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

One of the largest recreational vehicle manufacturers in the U.S. will expand its operations in Ligonier, a move expected to create 500 jobs, officials announced Wednesday.

Forest River RV forecasts it will create the new Noble County jobs over the next few years. Officials cited record growth and a tightening labor pool for its expansion.

Mike Stump, company spokesman, commented on the news, which included a future investment of more than $4.4 million and the creation of 300 additional jobs in Ligonier.

“We are excited to continue expanding our operations in Noble County, where we have access to a talented workforce, strong RV manufacturing history and ecosystem, and business-friendly environment,” he said in a statement.

The division of Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. bought three existing buildings on north Gerber Street in the Ligonier Industrial Park, according to a news release. The properties were previously occupied by Vibracoustic and J Edwards Furniture. The sales prices weren't disclosed.

The September acquisition added almost 160,000 square feet to the company's holdings and will house its IBEX Travel Trailer production, parts and service center.

Forest River's Puma plant, which employs about 160, is also located on Gerber Street.

Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway company, makes recreational vehicles, pontoons, park models, buses, cargo trailers, and commercial trucks under dozens of brand names.

“The diversity of Forest River Inc. enables us to approach the RV industry with a unique perspective, incorporating lessons learned at each one of our divisions,” Stump said.

IBEX expects to ramp up production by the end of this month, with the first travel trailer expected to come off the production line in early December. Job applicants may apply online. 

IBEX Travel Trailers offer eight floor plans and two widths – 7 and 8 foot – that are light enough to be towed by SUVs and smaller trucks, a news release said.

A record 55,014 RVs were shipped in September by all manufacturers, a 32% increase from the same month of 2020, according to the RV Industry Association, an Elkhart and Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

More than 11 million U.S. households now own an RV, according to the industry group. It credits the increase in ownership over the past 10 years to “younger individuals and families who live an active outdoor lifestyle and baby boomers who are entering retirement.”

Forest River also announced it is investing more than $4.4 million to acquire 65 more acres in the Ligonier Industrial Park, where it will build three 95,000-square-foot buildings and install more than $400,000 in new machinery and equipment.

Detailed plans related to the investment have not yet been released, but the company expects the operation will bring more than 300 more new jobs to Noble County when completed.

The upcoming project will be the company's third northeast Indiana investment announcement in less than two years.

Forest River last year announced a $3.5 million expansion of their manufacturing campus in Butler, about 40 miles east of Ligonier. Officials said in August 2020 that the expansion would spark the creation of 369 new jobs by the end of 2023.

Gary Gatman, the Noble County Economic Development Corp.'s executive director, described the investments as a great win for Ligonier and all of Noble County.

“It is a great example of how we can grow the local economy when we collaborate and work together. Working with the city, (Indiana Economic Development Corp.) and Forest River has been great,” he said in a statement. “We welcome Forest River's expansions and look forward to a long and prosperous partnership in Noble County.”

The Ligonier Industrial Development Corp. has agreed to invest in site preparation in support of upcoming, new construction. The city of Ligonier is also expected to consider a 10-year tax abatement on real property and personal property investments in coming weeks. And the Noble County Economic Development Corp. is exploring a possible investment to add an additional access point to the new site.

Patty Fisel, Ligonier's mayor, said she could not be prouder to welcome Forest River's expansions in her city.

“We know our workforce is a great fit for them and that they are a great employer,” she said in a statement. “It is never easy to see jobs lost, as we did when Vibracoustic pulled out last year. This is a great transition and opportunity for us to keep our people working and the community growing.”

Vibracoustic USA Inc. notified state officials last December of its plans to eliminate 84 jobs at its Noble County plant by the end of April 2021.

The Germany-based company consolidated work to other facilities.

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