COBURG -- After a round of hiring early this year, Marathon Coach Inc., a luxury motor coach maker, is at it again, with plans to add 25 employees by mid-September to its 147-person workforce.
And Marathon most likely will announce more hiring in the next 18 months, given the strong demand for its coaches, said Steve Schoellhorn, Marathon president and owner.
"We're seeing good demand for our product, and we're going to be smart how we grow the business. But as the demand allows, we'll continue to grow," he said.
After some dark days in the Great Recession, recreational vehicle manufacturing in the United States is making a comeback.
"The general industry trend is we're growing like crazy," said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, an industry trade group based in Reston, Va.
"This year we'll be back at 90 to 95 percent of our prerecession shipment levels," he said.
That isn't because more consumers shifted to lower-priced campers and trailers, he said.
Class A, or the highest-end, motor homes, which have been designed to be more aerodynamic and fuel efficient, are making a big comeback, too, Broom said.
Unit shipments of RVs in the United States were up about 13 percent in the first three months of the year, according to figures from RVIA, which projects overall growth of 5 percent for 2014.
Since 2009, that growth largely has been concentrated in Indiana, where 83 percent of U.S.-made RVs are manufactured, Broom said.
But a bit of RV manufacturing is returning to Lane County, with the hiring at Marathon and the opening earlier this year of Carry-On Trailer Corp., a Georgia-based manufacturer that is making enclosed utility trailers in part of the former Monaco Coach Corp. plant in Coburg.
"We're seeing some growth," said Brian Rooney, labor economist with the state Employment Department. "Demand for RVs seems to be rebounding from the Great Recession and may be helped along by baby boomers retiring."
Employment in the local RV industry, however, pales in comparison with its heyday here.
In March, Lane County's transportation equipment manufacturing industry employed 500 people, down from a peak of 4,600 in 2005, according to state Employment Department figures.
Transportation equipment manufacturing is mostly RV manufacturing, but includes some boat and bicycle manufacturing and auto parts reconditioning, Rooney said.
Despite the RV industry slowdown, Lane County retained its reputation as a center for sales and service, as well as a travel destination for RV owners, said Bradley Waring, executive director of the Oregon RV Alliance, which was formed in 2011 to encourage RV travelers to come to Oregon.
As evidence, he points to the large Camping World store, which opened in April in Coburg, and Guaranty RV's Travel Center in Junction City, which offers an expanded RV parts store, a larger RV service area, and an on-site laundromat and convenience store.
"The growth in manufacturing, sales, RV stays and visits is really encouraging to the economy as a whole," Waring said. "It's a fantastic upward trend. It's heartwarming to see a lot of people back to work and RVs all over Junction City and Coburg again and RVs all up and down I-5."
One of the RVs to hit Interstate 5 soon en route to a Marathon rally in the Grand Canyon will be the $2 million "show coach," that Marathon crews finished on Wednesday.
Marathon converts bus shells it buys from Prevost Car Inc. of Canada into high-end coaches.
Among the show coach's state-of-the-art features are top-of-the-line appliances, high definition television and a control system linked to an iPhone that enables an owner to view the coach and make adjustments, such as turning the lights on or off, from anywhere in the world that has cell phone service, Schoellhorn said.
"It's everything you want in a luxury home, just in a 45-foot vehicle," he said.
The coaches travel about eight miles on a gallon of fuel.
That's after Volvo updated the engines Marathon uses, boosting fuel efficiency by 15 percent, Schoellhorn said.
The show coach will be one of 11 or 12 coaches the company will build this year, Schoellhorn said, adding that he anticipates that production will increase at least 30 percent to 15-17 coaches next year.
That's nowhere near the peak of 70 coaches that Marathon produced in 2006, but it's better than the single-digits produced each year at the bottom of the recession.
Marathon is projecting revenues of $45 million this year, and of more than $50 million in 2015.
In addition to building and selling more new coaches, Marathon is doing more remodelings at its service centers.
About 20 of the 25 latest hires will be based in Coburg; and the rest at Marathon's sales and service centers in Texas and Florida, Schoellhorn said.
Marathon is hiring for positions in exterior paint, production and service.
Schoellhorn said he found "a lot of good, skilled people," in the last hiring round and he expects to find the same this time.
The last set of hires were a mix of people who previously had worked for one of the local RV manufacturers and people with experience outside the RV industry, "but who had the right skill set to fit in with us," Schoellhorn said.
Marathon offers health insurance and wages that are competitive in the RV industry and the local market, he said.