Recreational Vehicle Resurgence Buoys Indiana Town
GOSHEN, Indiana—When you see a recreational vehicle on the highway or in a campground, there's a good chance it came from this area of north-central Indiana: almost half of RVs on the road today were made in Elkhart County.
So when the recession hit and RV sales plunged (down 58 percent from 2006 to 2009) unemployment here soared to the highest in the nation: a staggering 20.9 percent in March 2009, when the nationwide unemployment was 8.7 percent.
But as the economy recovers, sales have come roaring back, rebounding 72 percent from 2009 to 2012.
At CampingWorld in Santa Clarita, Calif., business is booming.
"Month after month, sales continue to go up," said general sales manager Beau Bixey. "I have more people walking around asking questions than I have sales people for."
And that's good news for RV makers in Elkhart County, where the jobless rate stood at 9.4 percent in March, closer to the national average of 7.6 percent.
You can see the difference at Keystone RV, one the biggest makers of RV trailers, where productions lines are humming.
"Business is certainly a lot better," said company president Matt Zimmerman. "We're experiencing incredible growth, steady growth. We're still a little ways from that pre-recession-type number, but we like the trend and the pattern that we're seeing."
It's showing in their payroll. As sales slowed, Keystone's workforce shrank to just 1,900 in 2009. Now, they have a record 3,200 workers and are still hiring.
"There's a big demand [for workers] so naturally, the pay goes up," said Zimmerman. "I think you'll see that throughout the county. Everybody is forced to do that because the labor pool is getting a little bit tighter."
Keystone woodworker Marlin Hostetler is back at work after being laid off. During that time, he was forced to sell his house and move his family in with relatives.
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"Now I'm back on my two feet again," he said. "We really rebounded from it. We had some big debts to pay off."
Matthew Miller, a recent Keystone hire, landed the job after looking for a couple of months. He was in high school when the RV industry turned sour and watched as his dad got laid off.
"I could definitely tell there was a difference at home, for sure," he said.
But Miller, who's married, has a two-year-old daughter and another child on the way, says he's not worried about the same thing happening to him.
"It's very comforting know that I can work at a place like this," he said, "not necessarily be worried about my job, and know that I'm going to be able to provide for my family."
-By John Yang, Correspondent, NBC News; Follow him on Twitter @jyangnbc