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RV chiefs hoped for more specifics from Obama

Category: RV, Obama, Elkhart
Source: South Bend Tribune, Indiana
Publish Date: Monday, February 9, 2009
Summary: RV industry executives Ron Fenech and Richard Riegel were pleased with President Barack Obama's intent and effort in his speech before 2,500 people in the Concord High School gym Monday.

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Tribune Staff Writer

ELKHART —— RV industry executives Ron Fenech and Richard Riegel were pleased with President Barack Obama's intent and effort in his speech before 2,500 people in the Concord High School gym Monday.

But they are still waiting for a few more specifics.

"I would say his heart is in the right place," said Fenech, president and chief executive of Keystone RV in Goshen. "He answered even the difficult questions openly.
"I would like to have heard more specific information. I would say there were no revelations as it relates to our industry.

"The hopeful news is that there is some money that has been earmarked directly to RV lending in the bill that is before Congress right now."
Riegel, chief operating officer of Thor Industries Inc., the largest recreational vehicle maker in the world, called the president's appearance in Elkhart County, "fantastic."

"What a presence he has," said Riegel, who tried to ask a question several times in the question and answer session that followed Obama's speech. "It's high time to inject some optimism into the American people.

"We need it in our industry. We need it in Elkhart and around the country."
Riegel also was glad to hear there's some money coming the industry's way, but his question would have dealt with the Term Asset-backed Securities Loan Facility, announced in late November, a program that was established to help meet the credit needs of households and small businesses.

"There's already money in the $200 million TALF fund," Riegel said.

"That money is designed to be used by lenders to lend. Right now I think that most of that money is being used by lenders to backstop their balance sheets."

The RV industry needs the money to go to dealers and consumers. The money would allow dealers to purchase products from manufacturers and consumers to finance their purchase from dealers.

"The demand is there," Riegel said.

Freeing up credit was Fenech's main concern, too.

"We did not hear today too much dialogue about what will free up the credit markets in general in the United States," said Fenech, whose company announced last week the layoff of 350 workers in April. "And until that problem is solved, the RV industry is going to struggle."

Fenech said he, too, has seen some optimistic signs in the industry. "Our January warranty registrations for new sales were much better than I would have expected given all the bad news we continue to hear about our economy," he said.
Fenech, whose company is one of 11 RV subsidiaries of Ohio-based Thor Industries, said he is frustrated by the "high-level" politics in Washington regarding the stimulus package.

"Clearly there are party lines being drawn," he said. "I just want to see people make some good choices for the country."

Among other industry officials in the crowd were people like Bill Keith of SunRise Solar Inc. in Lake County, which utilizes manufacturing facilities in Warsaw, and Herb Anderson, a union member from outside Fort Wayne.

"I think he (Obama) recognizes that it's not going to be easy to make the changes we need to do," Anderson said. "But he is still sticking to his guns, and he was here trying to dispel some of the myths about this package and the idea that they are putting all kinds of pork into it."

Keith told the president he kept his business in Indiana even though he was told he could go to China and make much more money.

He said he was happy to hear the president's plan includes rewarding companies that are trying to go green.

"I thought his answer was really good," Keith said, "because I was looking for a sign from the president that he is going to back us up in having the utility companies be more friendly to green initiatives."

Staff writer Jim Meenan:
(574) 235-6342

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