Chinook

Chinook Motor Coach, a recreation vehicle manufacturer, is moving its operations from Elkhart to Peru.

PERU – A recreation vehicle manufacturer is moving its headquarters to Peru and hiring 250 people to start building motorhomes from its facility on U.S. 31.

Chinook Motor Coach has operated a motorhome manufacturing facility since 2017 in Elkhart, where the company is headquartered.

In November 2018, the company purchased Riverside Travel Trailer in Peru, which included 17 acres and around 130,000-square-feet of manufacturing space near the intersection of U.S. 31 and U.S. 24. Chinook started producing toy-hauler trailers and loft trailers from that location, which currently employs around 30 workers.

Now, the company is moving its entire manufacturing and business operations to the Peru location and hiring 250 more workers to make all its products from one campus.

Jeff Butler, Chinook’s general manager of plant production, said crews are currently renovating a 65,000-square-foot facility at the Peru site that will house the motorhome production line. He said work is nearly complete, and the company aims to start producing the RVs in around a month.

“We felt like this move made a lot of sense, so here we are,” Butler said. “We’re spreading the word and trying to hire people quickly.”

The move comes as the RV industry is seeing a huge surge in sales during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the RV Industry Association, the market for motorhomes and other mobile camping products is spiking as people look for safe ways to travel and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The association estimates 46 million Americans plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months, leading to major growth for RV manufacturers, dealers, retailers and campgrounds.

Butler said the surge in demand was also a major factor in Chinook’s hiring push at the Peru facilities.

“I don’t know if it’s due to the COVID-19 or what exactly is fueling the demand, but RV dealers are needing more products on their lots,” he said. “Their sales have really ticked up the last several months, so we’re seeing a lot more demand for our products.”

With most RV manufacturers closing during the pandemic, the demand has become even more pent up due to a lack of products on the market. Butler said Chinook just fully reopened its facilities on Monday.

He said now that the company has reopened, it plans to begin producing motorhomes and trailers as quickly as possible to keep up with demand.

“It’s like somebody flipped a switch and now customers are flooding RV dealerships,” he said. “We want to be able to tell dealers, ‘We’ve got product and we can supply it to you very quickly.’ That’s why we’re reacting the way we are.”

Peru is now set to be the home base for a company that is resurrecting a brand that once had been one of the most recognizable names in the RV industry.

Chinook started mass producing motorhomes in the early 1950s from its facilities in Washington State and quickly became a leader in the industry.

However, the company stopped production in 2005 due to the economic recession, and officially closed the next year.

In 2013, Phil Rizzio, the owner of several large U.S. dealerships, purchased the company, including the name, rights and intellectual property, and started resurrecting the brand.

Now, the company is moving ahead full speed with bringing back the Chinook name – and doing it all from its facilities in Peru.

“We’re trying to be a good partner and good citizen in this county, and we’re trying to be the place here that everybody wants to come and work at,” Butler said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to become that company, but we’re hoping we can achieve that and be a long-term partner in this community.”

Anyone interested in applying for a job at Chinook can visit the company’s website at chinookrv.com.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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