There still is strong attendance at RV shows, but sales and shipments have started to soften. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
There still is strong attendance at RV shows, but sales and shipments have started to soften. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
Is the continuing slip in RV shipments an adjustment in inventory levels or a warning sign of a coming recession?

For now, RV manufacturers continue to argue that the slump in shipments — now in its seventh consecutive month through the end of February — is the result of inventory that built up on dealership lots.

Indeed, overall retail sales were up 3.57 percent in 2018, according to Grand Rapids-based Statistical Surveys. But even those figures started dropping in the final quarter of the year compared to the same periods in 2017, and January sales were also down. 

There are other bits of circumstantial evidence that business is slowing down.

Elkhart County’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 3.4 percent in February remains below the average for the state and the nation. However, it’s up nearly 0.9 percent compared to the same month in 2017, and it’s been steadily increasing since October.

Industry officials have indicated that overtime shifts — which were common the past several years as the industry struggled to keep up with demand — were the first to go.

There also have been reports of reduced work weeks and weeklong unpaid furloughs, especially around the holidays.

Lovina Eicher, author of the Amish Cook column that runs in The Tribune, recently wrote that there isn’t any work at the RV factory where her husband works so he “has a week off again.” And an Elkhart County commissioner, Mike Yoder, said he heard of layoffs about three weeks ago at an RV operation in Middlebury.

So far, any layoffs are falling below the threshold of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which is meant to give employees advance notice of mass layoffs and plant closings.

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