Despite early reports of declining wholesale shipments and retail demand, the overall outlook for the RV industry remains solid, positioning the industry for yet another banner year in 2019.

That’s the word from Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the RV Industry Association, who spoke on the state of the RV industry during the 7th Annual RV Industry Power Breakfast held Thursday morning at the Northern Indiana Events Center, part of the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart.

According to Hugelmeyer, while it’s true that first quarter RV shipments were down by just over 27% compared to the same time period in 2018, that information has to be prefaced with the understanding that the industry realized an unprecedented amount of growth over the past three years. As such, even with the reported declines, the industry is still looking at what very well could be its fifth-best year on record.

HISTORIC RECORDS

“Let’s remember that right now we’re in the top three years of sales within our industry in our history. And we’re staying on track for that this year,” Hugelmeyer told the crowd of more than 1,000 RV industry officials and allies early Thursday morning. “We also, if you look at our shipment data, and you look at last year in January, February and March. ... We’re coming off of historic records. Those are historic, historic years. We’ve never seen years like we did in the beginning of 2018, those three months. So we’re still on track for another top-five sales and production year in our history. We’re way over the 20-year average of 331,000 units shipment average each year.”

Helping add to that promising prediction is the fact that the U.S. government has officially recognized outdoor recreation as an industry in and of itself, Hugelmeyer explained.

“We’re in a situation where outdoor recreation right now is finally recognized at the federal level for the very first time,” Hugelmeyer said. “We’ve been in an industry where the federal government, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, didn’t recognize us as an industry. And what they found is we’re one of the top 15 industries in the country. We contribute $734 billion annually, and 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP is driven by people in this room as well as other recreation sectors around the country. We’re bigger than agriculture, which is 1 percent of the U.S. GDP. We’re bigger than mining and utilities. So realize that there’s great, great power in what we’re producing, and we’re an incredibly important job sector.”

PROJECTIONS COMING

Hugelmeyer noted that the RVIA is currently in the process of finalizing its most recent RV-specific economic analysis and projection report, with numbers set to be released in June.

“And you have to realize, I’ve seen some of the early numbers, and our growth from the last time we did this before, is at 40 percent, 50 percent,” Hugelmeyer said of the report. “When you look at labor, when you look at our contribution to the economy and job creation in the country, that’s outstanding results. We’ve been a large part of driving this economic recovery over the last several years, and certainly in the last five. And you’re seeing the numbers both in our sales, as well as we’re going to see them in our economic news.”

Moving forward, Hugelmeyer said the RVIA will continue to advocate on behalf of the RV industry when it comes to the top business issues of the day, one example being the ongoing trade and tariff discussions with China.

“We’re very active on that front on your behalf, to make sure that those impacts, particularly on steel and aluminum, are not harming our members,” Hugelmeyer said.

COURTING SUPPORT

Along those lines, Hugelmeyer noted that the RVIA is in the process of launching the RVIA Political Action Committee, a nonprofit, non-partisan PAC aimed at building a bench of national RV champions, particularly in the key committees handling issues that directly affect the RV industry, such as trade, tax and recreation.

“This is a critical tool for us to continue to advocate on your behalf,” Hugelmeyer said of the new PAC. “It’s a critical, critical tool for us to continue to work on your behalf to create a better and stronger business.”

Also high on the RVIA’s list of major issues that need immediate attention is what Hugelmeyer described as the industry’s growing shortage of RV technicians, something the association hopes to address with the recent launch of its new RV Technical Institute.

“This is a critical issue,” Hugelmeyer said of the technician shortage, noting that the goal of the new RVTI is to improve the RV consumer experience by reducing repair event cycle times and growing the pool of trained service technicians. “As we’ve seen record sales, we’re going to see record repair. We need to make sure we’re competing with the other sectors for our share of vocational workers.”

As part of that mission, Hugelmeyer informed Thursday’s crowd that the RVIA just finalized the purchase of a property at 333 Middlebury St., Elkhart, that will serve as the new Elkhart Hub of the RVTI (RV Technical Institute) and RVIA.

“We’re expanding our presence here,” Hugelmeyer said of the new purchase. “RVTI will be based here as well as the RVIA staff. It’s 18,000 square feet, on three acres, has seven classrooms, and will be open during the open house to be able to provide tours so that you can see this new facility.”

A grand opening for the new facility is set for the fall.

Other guest speakers at Thursday’s breakfast included Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, University of Maryland economics professor Peter Morici; U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski; RV Dealers Association President Phil Ingrassia; RVIA Chairman Garry Enyart; and Kampgrounds of America Inc. CEO Toby O’Rourke.

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