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RV industry gains ground.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

RV factories are poised to topple the wood-products industry as Lane County's largest manufacturing employer.

With an annual average of 4,100 employees through August - and more hiring by local RV companies to come - RV manufacturing will probably soon overtake wood-products manufacturing, which through August had an average of 4,740 jobs in the county, economists said.

The gap between the two sectors has narrowed over the past three years as the wood-products industry cut hundreds of jobs and the booming RV industry has added hundreds of jobs.

For workers, the shift is evident in their paychecks. RV factory jobs in the county on average pay 22 percent less than wood-products jobs, according to state data.

But the changing complexion of Lane County's manufacturing base - long defined by its log-sorting yards and sawmills - doesn't mean the county is suffering an identity crisis, economic experts say.

"Whether one's on top or the other is on top isn't what's important," said Jack Roberts, executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership, a nonprofit economic development agency. "What's important is whether they're growing."

The RV industry is definitely growing and wood products is gradually shrinking.

Those kinds of employment trends reflect a changing economy, said state economist Tom Potiowsky.

"We have a dynamic economy," he said. "Areas that used to be high employment dramatically change, and other areas where demand is stronger have higher employment.

"It's not a thing that you can say is good or bad," Potiowsky said. "The retort to that is if I'm in the lumber industry and I'm losing my job, it's bad. But it would be doubly bad if there were no jobs coming up as a replacement."

Over the years, the Eugene-Springfield area has gained a national reputation for RV manufacturing, especially of high-end motor homes.

Of the 320,800 RVs shipped to dealers last year, 58 percent were manufactured in Indiana; 11 percent in California and 7.5 percent in Oregon, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va.

Charlie Myers, president of Coburg-based Marathon Coach, which makes $1 million-plus motor coaches on bus chassis, said he's not surprised by the county's employment trend, given that three major motor home manufacturers are based here: Marathon, Monaco Coach Corp. in Coburg and Country Coach in Junction City.

Marathon has added 30 or 40 employees this year, for a total of 400 employees, and it anticipates more growth in 2005 and 2006, Myers said.

Country Coach, with 1,450 employees, recently announced plans to hire 150 to 175 more by the end of the year, after adding more than 400 jobs in the previous 18 months.

Earlier this year, Monaco had 2,850 employees in Oregon, according to published reports. The company's spokesman did not return a phone call from The Register-Guard. The majority of the company's Oregon workers are in Lane County.

Nationally, the RV industry is roaring ahead. RV shipments to dealers through July were up 19 percent, compared with the same period last year, according to Recreation Vehicle Industry Association data.

If there's a downside to the employment trend in Lane County, it's that the average worker at an RV factory earns less than his counterpart at a wood-products factory. The average annual Lane County wage last year in wood products was $39,395, compared with $30,857 for the transportation equipment sector, which is predominantly RV manufacturing, said Brian Rooney, labor economist with the Oregon Employment Department. Overall, the average county annual wage was $30,312 last year.

There's no clear explanation for the difference in wages. A number of wood-products mills are unionized, which might account for some of it, Rooney said. Roberts figures that as wood-products companies have automated, they have shed many lower-paying jobs. He also speculated that overtime boosts wood-products pay.

Rooney said RV factories may have more lower-skill assembly jobs compared with wood-products manufacturing, which can involve technical and mechanical responsibilities.

CAPTION(S):

Workers on the production line at Monaco Coach Corp. push a motor home to the next work station in the Coburg plant.
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Title Annotation:Business; Wood-products manufacturing remains county's largest employer, but just barely
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 27, 2004
Words:683
Previous Article:Tour guide camps her way through Europe.
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