By: Rick Kessler | Published on: Aug 17, 2021
With a press release issued today (Aug. 17) by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), Ember Recreational Vehicles, a new RV manufacturer backed by a partnership that includes Ashley Bontrager and several other industry professionals, officially emerges from its quiet startup phase and into the public realm.
Ember, which was founded earlier this year, plans to invest $4 million to build an 87,750-square-foot building on 15 acres in Bristol Commerce Park at 1728 Commerce Drive, according to the IEDC release. The manufacturing facility will be equipped with new lamination machines and welding equipment. Construction is expected to be completed by September 2021 with production starting soon after.
The company, which currently operates out of 18,000 square feet of warehouse, production and office space in Bristol, has grown to 23 employees over the last few months as it’s started the prototype process, plans to scale its workforce up to 150 positions by the end of 2023. The company is now hiring in Bristol for RV production, service, engineering, accounting and administration positions. Information on open positions will be available online.
“Northern Indiana, specifically Elkhart County, has earned its title as the ‘RV Capital of the World’ honestly,” Bontrager stated in the release. “The craftsmanship, dedication and work ethic of the local workforce has proven, over decades, to be unmatched. I, along with Ember’s three other founding partners, Chris Barth, Steve Delagrange and Ernie Miller, knew starting our company in Northern Indiana would provide a solid foundation for a successful future. We strongly felt to build a better RV, we need to build a better RV company first. We’re excited to bring a fresh approach to the RV Industry and where better to do it than Indiana?”
In addition to Bontrager, who serves as the company president and CEO, the founding partnership includes Vice President and COO Chris Barth as well as Operations Directors Ernie Miller and Steve Delagrange.
In an interview in late July with RVBusiness, Bontrager & Co. discussed plans for the company, saying that they expect production to begin in October for the new towable unit in their Overland Series. Barth described the unit as “conventional-plus,” meaning it will appeal to, as he put it, “discerning buyers.” While most details were being kept under wraps, he did reveal that the unit will be a lightweight laminated towable appropriately outfitted for off-road, off-grid adventures.
“There are some brands out there that are doing a great job, but we hear from dealers and consumers that they want more,” Barth said. “And the changing expectations of the customer are something that we’ve talked a lot about. ‘Can we do better? Are we able to do a little bit better than this?’ And it ended up being something that went into our company philosophy when we start talking about being able to do better.”
Indeed, Bontrager told RVBusiness that while product is important, early on the group realized they wanted to do more than just be another RV manufacturer churning out product.
“Some of our initial discussions started with talking about building RVs, but as we got into it more, we realized that what we really wanted to do was build an RV company that would do things a little better, in our opinion,” she said. “And we got excited about the idea that we’re building a great company, that also builds RVs.”
“So, we dug into our mission and vision and philosophy,” she continued. “That’s where we all started to get excited. We all love RVs. Ernie and Steve love the operation side and Chris and I love the sales and marketing side of it. But we really just wanted to build a great RV company.”
All of which begs the question: What makes Ember a great RV company?
To answer this, Bontrager talked about her long-held desire to run a company, suggesting she likely picked up her entrepreneurial spirit from her family; her grandparents, Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager who founded Jayco, a company where her father, Derald, along with her uncle Wilbur, carried on the family legacy for many years.
“I always knew that I wanted to lead a company that I would want to work for, that I would want to do business with, and that I would want to buy from. From where I sit, that’s what’s guiding everything that I’m doing. Any decision that we’re making, anything that comes across my desk, it has to fit into one of those three things or I’m not going to do it.”
Select dealers will have an opportunity to review Ember’s new product lineup, as well as the company itself, via invitation-only meetings held during the Elkhart RV Open House. For more information or dealer inquiries, visit the company website at www.EmberRV.com.
The IEDC offered Ember Recreational Vehicles Inc. up to $1 million in conditional tax credits based on the company’s plans to create up to 150 jobs by the end of 2023, according to the release, and up to $100,000 in conditional tax credits from the Hoosier Business Investment tax credit based on the company’s planned capital investment in Indiana. These credits are performance-based, meaning the company is eligible to claim incentives once Hoosiers are hired and investments are made. The Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County is considering additional incentives.
“Hoosiers are innovators, launching businesses that are developing new solutions for today’s challenges affecting industries Indiana is known for across the nation,” stated Jim Staton, IEDC SVP and chief business development officer. “Ember Recreational Vehicles is a prime example of one of those companies, finding success with the support of a strong entrepreneurial culture and a business climate that keeps taxes, expenses and regulations low while providing talent and growth opportunities.”
“Ember RV will be designing and building innovative, lightweight trailers and will be the first woman-led RV manufacturing company in Bristol,” said Bristol Town Manager Mike Yoder. “We are very excited and pleased that Ember RV has chosen Bristol to construct their manufacturing facility.”