Issues

Elkhart Residents Question Obama’s Economic Impact Ahead of President’s Visit

Barack Obama
AP

President Obama is set to return to Elkhart, Indiana, on Wednesday to position the region’s slashed unemployment rate as a success story of his administration’s $800 billion economic stimulus package.

But business leaders in the small town are wary to credit the federal government with pushing Elkhart out of the 2008 recession, arguing that the economy remains fragile and heavily dependent on the finicky recreational vehicle industry, the IndyStar reported.

When Obama first visited Elkhart in 2009, the county’s unemployment rate had spiked to the highest in the nation, hovering around 20 percent. Today, the region has a 4 percent unemployment rate with the robust return of manufacturing jobs.

Even so, roughly 60 percent of the county’s jobs are connected to the recreational vehicle industry. While the number marks a 10-point drop from 70 percent in 2007, Elkhart’s reliance on the business leaves it vulnerable to sharp shifts in the market.

"It’s easy to use Elkhart as an example since we went from real good, to real bad, back to real good and it's one of those success stories," Mark Landis, a senior supervisor at Siemens Healthineers USA in Elkhart, told IndyStar. "But maybe we should ask President Obama exactly how he feels he was able to help the Elkhart County economy during his administration. Maybe that would be a fair question: Tell us how you helped."

In a statement released Tuesday ahead of the president’s visit, Obama said his administration’s economic platform, including the government’s stimulus package, dragged Elkhart out of the recession and put the town’s residents on a "stronger course."

Yet, as IndyStar reported, the town’s job numbers are still tied to the nation’s RV sales, "which fell from a peak of 390,500 in 2006 to a low of 165,700 in 2009, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association."

Local business leaders said that the Obama administration’s policies have done little to diversify the county’s economy or to help prevent a new wave of economic destitution if the town’s RV sales drop again.

"Do many of us feel like we’re dependent on the RV industry around this area? Yes. Are we totally comfortable with that? No," founder of Elkhart’s Alpha Systems, which makes products for RVs, told IndyStar.

"There’s no direct correlation to anything he's done to help us," he continued. "We’re not excited about anything he’s done. There's nothing he’s done to help this industry around here."

Obama will meet with Elkhart residents Wednesday during an Indiana town hall hosted by PBS.