Tuesday, October 14, 2008
DALLAS -- Forest River has laid off between 50 and 100 employees from its recreational vehicle plant during the last three months, a company official said.
High gas prices, the limited availability of financing for customers and the overall downturn of the economy have been the driving factors, said Tom Martin, Forest River RV division manager.
"It's been a challenge," Martin said. "Our business is off by about 20 to 25 percent."
Still, officials there are anticipating better fortunes next year and an influx of new jobs when it begins building lightweight travel trailers in its old cargo trailer division plant -- which relocated to Independence a few months ago.
"We're not sitting back," Martin said.
According to an Oct. 1 report by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RV shipments have fallen by almost 23 percent in 2008 from 2007.
About a dozen major RV manufacturers along the West Coast have gone out of business this year, including Alpenlite in Yakima, Wash., and Southern California-based Weekend Warrior.
Martin said his company's cargo division has held up well in the sluggish economy because they're cheaper than RVs and can be used by smaller tow vehicles.
With fewer consumers hunting for RVs, however, layoffs were inevitable. The plant in Dallas currently has approximately 170 employees, down from about 240 before personnel reductions started.
"It's the worst thing to have to do," Martin said. "You never want to lay off a person and affect their livelihood."
Martin said while production may slow in the coming weeks, there shouldn't be any more layoffs.
And Forest River is seeking a greater share of the RV market with the failure of some competitors by looking for more facilities in California, he said.
Officials hope to have its "Surveyor" travel trailer operation in Dallas running by spring. The new line is more aerodynamic and lighter -- by 800 to 1,200 pounds -- than traditional trailers, which should improve fuel economy. A new smaller RV model will also be offered.
The "Surveyor" plant should allow Forest River to hire back as many employees as it lost -- or more, Martin said.
"I would say we could be back to where we were by April or May (2009)," he said.