bjbjLULU JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: One Midwest U.S.
city looks to boost jobs by investing in an industry that was once in decline. Special
correspondent Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW Chicago reports. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Elkhart, Ind.,
has long been known as the R.V. capital of the world. But when the bottom fell out of
the R.V. market in 2008, unemployment in Elkhart soared to over 20 percent. Two years ago,
Elkhart jumped on the electric vehicle bandwagon hoping bring, those unemployment numbers down.
It lured Norway-based Think Auto to town with federal stimulus money, tax breaks and space
in a former R.V. plant. Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore says in return, Think promised over
400 well-paying jobs. The deal also included two all-electric Think cars for the city.
Mayor Moore says the cars drive well, have good pickup and cost about $3 worth of electricity
for every 100 miles. DICK MOORE, mayor of Elkhart, Ind.: We’re awfully happy that they’ve
chosen Elkhart, Ind., to build these cars, and we understand they’re in somewhat of a
difficult situation right now, but our hopes are still high, our confidence is still there.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The mayor may be the only one holding on to hope. Think autos are still
visible through the window of the Elkhart plant, but there is no sign of any activity.
Think filed for bankruptcy protection in Norway last year. A Russian investor just purchased
Think at auction, but has not announced any plans for the ailing company. The president
of the county’s Economic Development Commission admits that Think has been a major disappointment.
DORINDA HEIDEN-GUSS, Elkhart County Economic Development Commission: Any time you get your
hopes up, you look forward to 415 new jobs, significant multimillion-dollar investment.
It d be a big win for the community, for the county, for the region. And, obviously, it
didn’t come to fruition, so that was disappointing. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: There were problems with
the Think car from the start: three recalls for defective equipment. Then the Indiana
company producing the batteries for Think went bankrupt. And there was a deeper problem.
With a sticker price of $41,000, the Think car found few buyers. BILL WYLAM, president,
International Energy, LLC: If you ve ever seen the Think car, that would be pretty hard
to sell for cars — for people that buy cars in this country, ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Known
as the father of the electric car industry, Bill Wylam, whose nickname is Battery Bill,
began working on electric vehicles for General Motors in the 1950s. He doesn’t see the American
car buyer warming up to a Think car. BILL WYLAM: And there are niches where people would
want that kind of car, but it probably looks a lot more at home in downtown Brussels or
Paris than it does in Indianapolis. And so that type of car, I think, was a problem.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But the mayor, who still has hopes for a Think comeback, touts the
car’s advantages. DICK MOORE: It’s not a toy. It’s not a plaything. It is real. And as you
can tell, it operates very, very well. The steering is good, the breaking is good, and
all of this operates with no gasoline, no bad exhaust emissions. It’s all done on a
battery. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Indiana has invested millions of state and federal dollars into
creating an infrastructure for electric vehicles. Indianapolis has 100 short- and long-term
public charging stations. Paul Mitchell heads a consortium of clean-tech energy companies
that have pushed hard for more electric vehicles. But even he admits that developing a brand-new
car is tough. PAUL MITCHELL, president and CEO, Energy Systems Network: It’s going to
continue to be an uphill battle for somebody to build a car from the ground up in a global
industry where there’s major automakers who have years of experience and deep supply chains
to advantage them. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Ironically, as the electric car industry struggles, the
industry that was largely responsible for the 20 percent unemployment rates in the region
began to revive. The R.V. industry picked up in sales and slowly began hiring again.
In Elkhart, Jayco has hired back 600 workers over the last two years. The company cut its
work force in half in 2009 as sales plunged 60 percent during the recession. But now Jayco’s
largely Amish work force is growing again. Mark Raber got his job back and says he feels
good about the economy. MARK RABER, Jayco: I think I’m optimistic about it, because looking
at the other factories in the R.V. industry, other guys are working six days a week. And,
definitely, even a year ago, we were nowhere close. I know that the unemployment has — is
higher than it’s been, but I think we’re going to be okay. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jayco now
has a new lighter R.V. designed to use less gas, which Jayco president Derald Bontrager
thinks will continue to boost sales, even if gas prices remain high. Jayco is on target
to sell 31,000 R.V.s this year, only 4,000 less than its peak sales before the recession
hit. Bontrager understands how important Jayco’s recovery is to the surrounding economy. DERALD
BONTRAGER, president, Jayco: We have a huge impact on this economy. And I hear it all
the time walking the streets and in the stores. They ask, how you doing, because they always
say, how you’re doing has a big bearing on how all the other retail establishments in
the area are doing. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Mayor Moore still looks to electric vehicles and
other clean-energy technologies to boost job creation in the future. But for now. DICK
MOORE: I need immediate, quick recovery, and it’s right here. Don’t turn your back on the
R.V. industry. They know what they are doing. They have been through this cycle many, many
times. Watch and see what happens. ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So, for now, the hottest vehicle
in Indiana is not from the future. It’s from the past. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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