Forest River grows

November 27th, 2017

By Kelly Lynch | The News Sun

Three months after purchasing property and creating more than 100 jobs in Ligonier, Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. is set to expand and bring with it a potential addition of 400 jobs.

Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel said Wednesday morning that the recreational-vehicle manufacturer made an agreement with the Ligonier Industrial Development Corp. Tuesday to purchase 50 acres of agricultural-zoned land southwest of the intersection of North Main Street and Perry Road, with plans to close on the purchase contract early next week.

The plan to expand didn’t come as a complete surprise to Fisel. She had commented in August after Forest River’s initial purchase of the property at 710 Gerber St., formerly Creative Wood Designs, that the company already was looking for more space for future expansion.

The amount of growth did come as a shock.

“I think it’s incredible. There are so many components that we need to look at with that magnitude,” Fisel said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity for the people here in Ligonier. I don’t think it’s a detriment to our present industry. We try very hard to accommodate them in every way that we can. As we grow, we’ll be able to recognize the benefits for everyone.”

The company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., recently started production in Ligonier’s industrial park to meet the growing demand for its Palomino-brand Puma line of toy haulers.

Unlike many industries that are dealing with vacancies in their workforces, Fisel said Forest River had no issues with filling its labor needs and saw the opportunity for growth within the city.

Mike Stump, a Forest River representative, approached the mayor two weeks ago to search for a new location to expand the manufacturer’s production and soon was in touch with the LIDC to scout properties in the city’s industrial park, Fisel said.

The process doesn’t usually unfold so quickly, LIDC President John Mangona said, but the company knew what it was looking for in a location.

“They know what they want, which is nice. Fortunately, Ligonier Industrial Development Corp. had what they needed. They were anxious to get going; we were anxious to have them here,” Mangona said. “I think it’s a win-win situation for both parties concerned.”

The proposed expansion brings with it an unknown amount of investment, but Fisel and Mangona said that in discussions with Stump, they were told the preliminary plan is to construct three to four buildings on the property and create about 400 jobs.

Stump was not available for comment for this story.

Mangona said the LIDC was created in the 1950s to attract such industry to the city, and after some negotiation on the price of the land, the board unanimously approved the sale of its property to Forest River.

“We were very glad to have them here … It’s going to be a big deal,” Mangona said. “We want this wrapped up as fast as we can, so they can get started on what they want to do. It’s a great asset for the community as a whole.”