By ROGER SCHNEIDER, The Goshen News

NAPPANEE - There is a universal response in this city these days when the state of the economy is discussed.

"It's bad," is always the answer.

This city of about 6,700 people, according to the last census was one of the first in the nation to feel the pinch in the economy because of its heavy reliance on the recreational vehicle industry and its related suppliers. When RV shipments dropped dramatically in early 2008, good-paying jobs began to disappear.

On July 17 the city's workers knew their paychecks and middle-class lifestyles were in jeopardy. That was the day RV maker Monaco announced it would close its manufacturing plants in nearby Wakarusa, Elkhart and Nappanee. By mid-September 1,400 good-paying jobs vanished.

Since the Monaco announcement, many other Nappanee-area businesses have cut jobs or closed, compounding the frustration in the community.

"It's bad," Leslie Golden said. "I am getting about nine hours a week."

Golden once worked in the human resources department at RV maker Fairmont/Gulf Stream.

In searching for a full-time job she has sent out or dropped off about 300 resumes. She received three calls, one was a prank.

"There is nothing much out there," she said. "Not in this area anyway."

Golden feels fortunate to be working part time at a motel doing housekeeping chores. She is paid minimum wage.

"There are five or six girls there," she said. "(The manager) tries to give each one of us time each week. They are trying on their end, but there is only so much you can do."

That generosity and concern is communitywide, according to Golden. State agencies, including Workforce Development, are trying to help the displaced RV workers. She cited the computer training classes being offered through the Nappanee Public Library, as one example of the community's response.

Her husband George has signed up for that training. So has her grandson. Both are also out of work.

According to Golden, her husband worked at a plastics molding plant in Elkhart. That company made parts for the RV industry and also cut jobs.

"(State and local agencies) are really trying to make a lot of people available to help (the unemployed) learn new skills and go into new fields," she said.

One of her neighbors has enrolled in a college in South Bend to learn information technology skills. The state has provided displaced RV workers with retraining grants to pay for such schooling.

But, Golden says her other neighbors simply moved to Florida to seek jobs. And the Goldens are considering that path themselves come spring.

"We have been looking (for jobs)," Golden said. "But at the moment we have made the decision we are going to move. We are moving out of state and going to Arkansas."

There in the Natural State the Goldens have family and friends. George Golden will seek jobs either as an electrician or as an iron worker, according to Leslie.

This will be the second time the couple has been uprooted by economic turmoil. In the 1970s they lived in Kentucky where George was an iron worker. He helped construct coal bunkers and coal silos at mines.

"One day it was kind of like someone flipped a switch and it was done," Leslie said of that industry.

A lot of Kentuckians made their way north to Indiana in search of jobs. The Goldens arrived in Nappanee in 1986.

Leslie is staying positive about this latest change in the family's lives, reasoning that these things happen to many families and is simply part of living.

For Kathy Vorsa, the mother of 10 children, two of whom are still at home, staying in town is preferable. She lost her job at a local publishing company on Aug. 15. Just last week she landed her first full-time job since then, working for Forest River.

Vorsa credits her Christian faith and the Lord with providing her family with enough to eat and enough money to meet their bills during five and a half months of limited resources.

"I just started a new job Monday and I am very pleased with it," Vorsa said. "It is due to the ad in the newspaper. (The Goshen News offers free job-wanted ads to the unemployed) ... I ended up in a position that is higher paying than I have ever been paid before."

Vorsa collected unemployment benefits and said that limited income barely provided enough for her family.

Fortunately for her, she had just started a part-time photography business when she lost her full-time job. The photography business picked up enough during the hard times and brought in much-needed cash for groceries and gas, she said.

She also received help from the township trustee, who paid one of her bills. And her family was generous. Her brothers in Pennsylvania and Carmel sent her money. She also made use of the food pantry at the Family Christian Development Center.

She received bread and muffins as well as prayers from her congregation at Living Faith Fellowship in Elkhart.

Like Golden, Vorsa dropped off resumes to local businesses hoping to catch the attention of someone who could hire her. But that never happened.

Instead, her son found a part-time job for her at Tornier Inc., an orthopedic company in Warsaw. She was hired to edit manuals the company was compiling.

While working there, her ad in The Goshen News was noticed and she received an offer for an interview, then a job.

"You live just day-to-day and just trust," she said. "It is kind of interesting how the Lord supplies. But I would rather not have to see how tightly."

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