Forest River bringing 125 new jobs to Butler

November 1st, 2017

By Jeff Jones | KPC News - The Star

An Elkhart-based manufacturer of commercial and recreational vehicles, pontoons and park models could bring up to 125 new jobs to Butler.

Forest River Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Co., on Tuesday received favorable recommendations for tax abatements from Butler’s Economic Development Commission to build XLR toy haulers, both in travel trailer and fifth wheel formats, at the former Evans Equipment truck terminal at 685 E. Main St.

The former truck terminal has been vacant since a successor company left Butler more than a year ago.

Forest River General Manager Brent Stevens said manufacturing should begin this year, using five existing, renovated buildings on the property. By mid-2018, Forest River hopes to move manufacturing into a 100,000-square-foot building that will be constructed to the east of the current buildings on the property.

By 2019, the company expects to employ 125 people in Butler, according to a news release from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Annual employee salaries could range from $50,000 to $75,000.

Butler was competing against Van Wert, Ohio as a possible location for the manufacturing facility, Mike Stump, director of public relations for Forest River, told Butler’s EDC at its meeting Tuesday morning.

“We picked Indiana because it is our home and we know the people,” Stump said in the news release. “Butler offers us the ability to access a hard-working, rural community where the workforce has not been depleted and are ready to do big things.”

“The City of Butler is pleased to welcome Forest River to our community,” said Mayor Ron Walter. “We look forward to a great relationship, and are excited that over 100 high-paying jobs will be a big boost to the area.”

“Indiana is a powerhouse when it comes to the RV industry, with over 80 percent of the world’s RVs being built in the state,” Governor Eric J. Holcomb said.

The Indiana EDC has offered Forest River up to $1 million in conditional tax credits and $150,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. The incentives are performance-based, according to the news release, meaning until Hoosiers are hired, the company is not able to claim incentives.

Butler’s EDC has recommended separate, 10-year tax abatements for real and personal property and a vacant building deduction. The new building is projected to cost $2.3 million. New manufacturing equipment is projected to cost $650,000. The vacant building deduction is expected to be worth $200,000. Butler’s City Council will consider the recommendations of the Butler EDC at a future meeting.

“We purchased the buildings several months ago. We have building permits, and we’ve already started on building permits to upgrade the electrical and do the roofs,” Stevens said. The former truck wash facility initially will house chassis and floor assembly for the XLR trailers.

“With the existing buildings, we feel we can get up to three units a day,” Stevens said. “Our capacity (with the new building) should be about 15 per day.”

Once the new facility is completed, the existing buildings will be used for storage.

The Elkhart-based company employs 11,000 people throughout Indiana. Earlier this year, it announced plans to bring 425 jobs to LaGrange and 100 jobs to Ligonier. The Butler facility will employ electricians, plumbers, framers, finish carpenters, quality control inspectors, metal hangers and cleaners.

There will be no retail sales in Butler.

“We don’t build anything unless it’s already sold to a dealer,” Stevens said. “A dealer will place an order with us, it goes into the building queue and then we build it. Once it is complete, it will go sit outside. We’ll have dispatching (in Butler), and then it will be dispatched to Canada, out to California or down to Florida.”

“We’re just really excited about the Butler opportunity,” Stevens said. “It’s kind of stepping outside of our comfort zone in the Elkhart-Goshen area where we’ve primarily grown up. That’s the RV capital, and all of our vendors are over there.

“The initial toe dip that we’ve put into Butler has been really positive, and our vendors are excited to kind of expand their territories,” he added. “We’ll pick up new vendors in the Butler area, and new opportunities will present themselves there.”

Stevens expects the labor force to be a mixed shop of Amish and nonAmish (“English”) employees. “We have a lot of plants that are an Amish-English mix,” he explained. “It was actually the Amish community that reached out to us to come over here to Butler. That’s why we looked over in this direction.

“We manufacture in Topeka. We’ve got several plants there and four plants in LaGrange, and a lot of Amish work for us there,” Stevens added.

“A lot of the Amish have cabinet shops, and a lot of what we build on the inside are cabinets,” he said. “It’s a lot like building a house. You have construction, all of the cabinetry, the heating and plumbing. A lot of the Amish tradesmen do that every day.”

“This community reached out to us, and we found that there are families that want to grow with the new opportunity,” Stump said. “The timing was right at Forest River, and it just made sense for us to step outside the Elkhart-Goshen region. We are really excited about what lies ahead, and look forward to working with the people of Butler and DeKalb County.”