BUCKING ODDS, FLEETWOOD TO ADD 100 WORKERS

December 20, 2001 12:00 am
PLENTY OF ROOM: Steve Witty, La Grande Fleetwood production manager, drives an ATV up into the companys latest product: a sport utility truck camper. The company is in the process of hiring100 additional workers at the Pierce Road plant in order to get the units out to dealers in a few months.  The Pendleton plant also is adding 100 workers  now to turn out a luxury fifth-wheel unit. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
PLENTY OF ROOM: Steve Witty, La Grande Fleetwood production manager, drives an ATV up into the companys latest product: a sport utility truck camper. The company is in the process of hiring100 additional workers at the Pierce Road plant in order to get the units out to dealers in a few months. The Pendleton plant also is adding 100 workers now to turn out a luxury fifth-wheel unit. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

At a time when recreational vehicle sales are down nationally, Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Oregon is adding 100 employees at its La Grande plant to turn out its new spring line.

Its really an unexpected phenomenon for us, said production manager Steve Witty.

We are gearing up at a time when the industry is dropping back.

He attributes the success to the companys new line of products and to product improvements and redesign. These include a new truck camper model and a luxury fifth-wheel model.

Both these products received a great reception from dealers at the national RV show in Louisville, Ky., Witty said. The show is the largest RV show in the nation.

That made our order position extremely good. Our recent sales projections are very encouraging and will be challenging to meet. Our dealers are very loyal and they were extremely well pleased with our mid-year product line, he said.

Witty was not sure of the total number of dealers nationwide but said there are 200 in the Northwest.

Our dealer network encompasses territory from Alaska, western Canada and Northwest United States, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California, Witty said.

The local Fleetwood plant at 62582 Pierce Road had 140 employees as of Thanksgiving and is in the process of adding 100 more.

We will be at maximum capacity by February, he said. That will give us 240 employees and were working 48 hours a week, so everyone gets eight hours a week of overtime.

He said the company contributes more than $5 million annually to the local economy in payroll.

The work schedule calls for operating 48 hours a week at least through January, then with increased workforce to meet market demands.

He said the La Grande plant would produce in excess of 1,000 units for the spring quarter. In 33 years of operation, the

La Grande plant has turned out 76,000 units.

Witty attributes a lot of the success of the local plant to the employees, saying the workers commitment to producing a high quality product is our greatest reason for success.

The newest product being turned out in La Grande is a sport utility truck camper.

It has the ability to hold a four-wheeler in the back. It was designed with the outdoor enthusiast in mind and has space to store hunting, fishing and recreational vehicles, Witty said.

The unit retails for $5,585, less than many four-wheelers sell for.

In showing the product, we have encountered much interest and feedback for other uses for such a product, Witty said.

The Pendleton Fleetwood plant will also add 100 employees to turn out the luxury fifth-wheel product that has been well-received at shows. Fleetwood had laid off 100 workers in September, most of them in Pendleton, due to poor market conditions at that time.

Fleetwood, which has corporate offices in California, says it is the worlds largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles, providing one of every four RVs to Americans.

Two local retailers who carry Fleetwood products are Bulldog Enterprises at 10200 Wallowa Lake Highway, phone 963-6404, and Northwood Homes and RV at 11001 Island Ave., phone 963-0730.

The upswing locally in production comes at a time when Fleetwood nationally reported a second-quarter 2001 net loss of $12.3 million or 38 cents per diluted share, which included an accrual of $8.3 million for the pending settlements of two class-action lawsuits.

The loss reflects reduced sales volume in both of the companys core businesses, RV sales and manufactured homes. The company lost $3.4 million or 10 cents per diluted share in last years second quarter.

Nationally, the companys RV group sales declined this year, mostly reflecting weakened sales in its travel trailer division, resulting in RV operating losses of $10.1 million for the second quarter.