Elkhart-based RV company expansion could be sign of booming business in Noble County

Local News

LIGONIER, Ind. (WANE) – Elkhart-based Forest River RV plans to expand its RV manufacturing business with a major expansion in Ligonier that is anticipated to bring about 500 jobs to Noble County.

Forest River recently bought three buildings in the Ligonier Industrial Park which will be used to manufacture and service the company’s IBEX travel trailers according to a news release from Noble County Economic Development. Forest River already operates a plant in Ligonier that employs about 600 people.

Forest River RV is a division of Forest River, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana. The company produces recreational vehicles, pontoons, park models, buses, cargo trailers, and commercial trucks under dozens of brand names. The company cites record growth and a tightening labor pool as reasons for the expansion into Ligonier. In August 2020, the company announced a $3.5 million expansion of their manufacturing campus in Butler, Indiana, located about 40 miles east of Ligonier. When announced, that expansion predicted the creation of 369 new jobs by the end of 2023. 

“The diversity of Forest River, Inc. enables us to approach the RV industry with a unique perspective, incorporating lessons learned at each one of our divisions,” explained Mike Stump. “We are excited to continue expanding our operations in Noble County where we have access to a talented workforce, strong RV manufacturing history and ecosystem, and business-friendly environment,” he continued. 

Mayor Patty Fisel said it is a sign of good things ahead for Ligonier.

“We were already growing but with the news of Forest River coming in, that gets us a huge anchor in our industrial park,” said Fisel. “We have the other businesses that are there that are going to benefit from them being there.”

For one, the city plans to expand the street in front of the industrial park to better accommodate big haul truckers. Fisel said she has already heard from other companies considering a move to Ligonier. There is also the potential for more development in the area. The city has 240 acres south of the intersection of S.R. 5, US 33, and US 6 that is already annexed and zoned for planning and urban development.

“We do have room for commercial, we have room for residential, and we have more room for industry,” Fisler said. “We would like to have a hotel, we would like to have a larger grocery store, we’d like to have, who knows what, and but we welcome and we work with people. We want them to come here.”

Rick Farrant, Director of Communications for Northeast Indiana Works, agreed that news of an expansion is good for business in Ligonier and the area around.

“This is a big win for Noble County, no matter how you slice it,” said Farrant. “The county experienced the closure of several manufacturers in the last couple of years so this announcement has the potential of bringing back at least some of those jobs.”

As far as filling the 500 job openings set to be added in a time when businesses say applicants are hard to come by, Farrant said openings are a good problem to have.

“We still have a lot of people on the sidelines, and many of them left during the pandemic, some of them may have left for other reasons,” Farrant said. “This decision by Forest River provides an opportunity to draw some of those people back into the workforce and RV jobs typically pay pretty well so there should be a fair amount of interest. There should be a fair amount of interest, I would think. If anyone were to consider this a problem, I would say it’s a good problem to have, certainly much better than then having no businesses and no jobs come into a county.”

IBEX expects to ramp up production by late November with the first travel trailer anticipated to come off the production line in early December. The three industrial buildings will house production as well as a parts and service center. Job applicants may apply online at https://forestriverinc.applicantstack.com/x/openings.

Forest River’s expansion into Ligonier will not be complete with the startup of IBEX production line. The company also announced it is investing over $4.4 million to acquire 65 more acres in the Ligonier Industrial Park to construct three 95,000 square foot buildings and add over $400,000 in new machinery and equipment. Detailed plans related to this additional acquisition have not yet been released, but the company expects the operation will bring over 300 more new jobs to Noble County when complete.

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