Founder Factory Announcement

Join us for a special Startup Summit!
November 10, 2021

Startup South Bend – Elkhart, the entrepreneurship initiative of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is hosting our region’s first annual Founder Factory Startup Summit right here in South Bend – Elkhart on November 10th. The goal of Founder Factory is to create a space for entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and investors to come together for one incredible afternoon. In celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Founder Factory is offering a place to learn, connect, and engage about all things entrepreneurship and innovation.

We are asking our regional partners, stakeholders, community advocates and many others to help spread the word far and wide about this awesome event. We need your assistance in sharing this information with your respective networks via email, social media, newsletter, or any other means available to reach your audience. For more information about the event, go to

To access the Founder Factory media toolkit and other related marketing materials, Click Here!


RV Capital of America Tops WSJ/ Housing Index in Third Quarter

Index ranks cities for appreciating housing markets and lifestyle amenities

Small U.S. cities dominated The Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Housing Markets Index in the third quarter, as high housing costs and remote-work opportunities drive many home buyers to seek out more living and outdoor space.

The housing boom sparked by Covid-19 has been widespread, with prices surging in major metro areas and small towns alike. While the number of home sales has moderated in recent months, demand continues to outpace the supply of homes on the market.

Many smaller metro areas around the U.S. benefited in the past year from inward migration, as residents of bigger cities took advantage of remote work to seek cheaper housing and a different lifestyle. Vacation destinations also boomed.

Elkhart, Ind., which bills itself as the RV capital of the world because its region is the country’s leading manufacturer of recreational vehicles, topped the housing index this quarter, followed by Rapid City, S.D., Topeka, Kan., Raleigh, N.C., and Jefferson City, Mo.

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Smoker Craft Invests $12 Million In New Indiana Facility

The expansion will help Smoker Craft meet increased consumer demand, and create up to 100 new jobs.

Smoker Craft Inc., a fifth-generation, family-owned boat and pontoon manufacturer, will invest $12 million to construct and equip a 200,000-square-foot space on its current 600,000-square-foot production campus in New Paris, IN. The new facility, which will be used for additional boat manufacturing and shipping, will create up to 100 new jobs by the end of 2024.

“Smoker Craft Inc. started construction on a 200,000-square-foot warehouse and shipping facility,” said Tim Jones, Vice President of Finance for Smoker Craft. “This expansion will be used to increase efficiencies to the loading process and allow us to ship not only more boats to our dealers all over North America, but raise the quality of the delivered product. The warehouse portion of the project is designed to free up manufacturing space in all three of our product lines: Aluminum fishing boats, pontoon boats and fiberglass deck boats.”

“This expansion will help meet the increased demand for our product throughout our dealer network,” Jones added. “We look forward to bringing more quality jobs to New Paris, and continuing our growth in the marine industry.”

Smoker Craft
Photo: Smoker Craft

The announcement comes nearly seven years after Smoker Craft announced plans to expand operations in New Paris, investing $4.1 million and creating up to 100 new jobs by the end of 2018. The latest expansion project will allow the company to serve growing customer demand. Construction has begun, and the new building is expected to be fully operational by April 2022.

“With homegrown Hoosier companies like Smoker Craft at the helm, Indiana will continue driving its economy forward, positioning our state for long-term economic stabilization and growth,” said Jim Staton, SVP and Chief Business Development Officer for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). “We’re excited Smoker Craft chose to continue propelling its growth here in Indiana, creating even more quality career opportunities for Hoosiers.”

Founded in 1961, Smoker Craft produces aluminum fishing boats, fiberglass sport boats and next-generation performance pontoons. The business sells its boats through a domestic and international network of more than 300 dealers.

Based on the company’s job creation plans, the IEDC committed an investment in Smoker Craft of up to $600,000 in the form of incentive-based tax credits. The IEDC will also commit up to $200,000 from the Hoosier Business Investment (HBI) tax credit program based on the company’s planned capital investment in Indiana. These tax credits are performance-based, so the company is eligible to claim incentives once employees are hired and investments are made. The Elkhart County Council approved real and personal property tax incentives.

“We are extremely pleased that Smoker Craft Inc., a legacy Elkhart County company and a leader in the boating industry, continues to thrive and grow additional production capabilities in New Paris,” said Chris Stager, President of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County.

The company, which currently employs 800 U.S. associates, including 770 in Indiana, is hiring for computer numerical control (CNC) welding positions. Interested applicants may apply online.



New RV Manufacturer, Encore RV, Launches in Elkhart, Ind.

By: RVBusiness | Published on: Sep 1, 2021 | Categories: Today’s Industry News

ELKHART, IN – A new RV company is launching at a time when the RV industry struggles through a shortage of workers and supply chain issues. Despite these issues, Encore RV is charging forward, almost embracing the headwinds many companies are facing today, according to a press release from the company.

Encore RV was founded in 2020 by Rich Schnippel, who has been involved in the RV and motorsports trailer industry since 2000, since 2010 with inTech RV.  The new company is planning to introduce their product during the upcoming Elkhart Open House, later this month.  In their inaugural year, Encore RV invites dealers to stop out at their manufacturing facility in Elkhart to look, not only at the campers, but also the production facility and see what makes this company unique.

Encore’s first product line, RŌM, will target the lightweight adventure trailer market that has become increasingly popular over the past 5 years, and Schnippel was a pioneer, designing several of today’s most popular models.  “Our desire is to create a product line which stands apart from other adventure trailers currently offered,” Schnippel stated, “we’ve designed the most well thought out and functional trailers in the market.”

One of the biggest standout features in the RŌM series is the 100% wood-free construction.  Every RŌM trailer showcases a lightweight, fully welded, all-aluminum frame and chassis.  To maintain the wood-free product, Encore utilizes composite floors and interior walls, while cabinetry is manufactured using precision CNC laser cut aluminum. This results in a strong, long-lasting and lightweight product.

Schnippel added, “I think people are going to be surprised at the value we’ve provided.  A lot of time has been spent meeting with and listening to both dealers and retail customers.  They’ve made it clear what’s important and we’ve incorporated those ideas into our designs and construction.  I’ve always enjoyed the design process and creating products which evoke real emotion…a passion you can see and hear when you’re talking to owners. It’s this passion which drives our innovation and motivates us to be better every single day.”

Encore has already begun establishing their dealer network and will be entertaining additional opportunities during the Open House, the release states.

If you would like to see the new RŌM series and learn more about Encore RV, stop out during the Open House. Encore RV is located at 4340 Pine Creek Road in Elkhart, Ind., just a short drive from the RV Hall of Fame.

Contact Rich Schnippel  at or by cell phone at 440-570-3030.



Ember RV, with Familiar Name Backing it, Officially Launches

By: Rick Kessler | Published on: Aug 17, 2021

Ashley Bontrager president and CEO of Ember Recreational Vehicles
Ashley Bontrager, president and CEO of Ember Recreational Vehicles, stands inside the company’s new 90,000-square-foot production facility.

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

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.”



Forest River Amped Over $850M EV Partnership

Tuesday, August 10th 2021, 3:18 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 10th 2021, 3:23 PM EDT

By Wes Mills, Content Manager

ELKHART – Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. is partnering with a Colorado electric vehicle company to manufacture zero-emission shuttle buses in a deal valued as high as $850 million. Forest River, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) will produce the interior and shell of the shuttles, while Lightning eMotors (NYSE: ZEV) will manufacture the powertrain systems.

Final assembly will take place at a Forest River factory in Goshen. The partnership calls for up to 7,500 Class 4 and Class 5 buses across the U.S. and Canada over the next four years.

“We’ll be providing our customers with a factory-installed electric powertrain that has proven technology relied upon by major fleets, at a price point no one else has been able to achieve,” said Forest River Bus Division President David Wright.  ”We believe this will be a game changer for shuttle-bus operators.”

The buses will have between 12 and 33 passenger seats and bus lengths of 20 to 34 feet.

Forest River says manufacturing of the EV shuttles has already begun. The company expects to deliver several dozen of the buses to its dealers by years’ end.



South Bend – Elkhart Region Now Accepting Program and Project Proposals for READI Program Application

SOUTH BEND – ELKHART, Ind. ​​​​​​(July 1, 2021) — Following the public launch of Get READI South Bend – Elkhart held on June 17th, the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership has opened the online Get READI South Bend – Elkhart Submission Form for project and program organizers to provide details about their concepts and share details about the project or program including the goals, partners, impact and funding breakdown.

Proposals are segmented into two categories:

  1. “Regional Cities” Projects are brick and mortar, quality of place projects that can have significant impact on the region. 
  2. Strategy-Driven Programs and Projects should be aligned with one or more of the five advisory committees for strategic initiatives through the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. These committees include:
    • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Education and Workforce
    • Industry Growth
    • Talent Attraction and Retention

For project and programs to be considered in the shaping of the South Bend – Elkhart region’s vision for the READI proposal, submissions must be received through the online form by 11:59 P.M. EST on July 18, 2021.  

“The South Bend – Elkhart region has a strong track record of performing well under pressure, and this timeline is no exception. We are excited to see what communities across the South Bend – Elkhart region have in mind to shape a better future that advances economic growth, attracts and retains top talent,” says South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership President and CEO, Regina Emberton.  
“Regional Cities” Projects will be shared with the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority for consideration. Strategy-Driven Programs and Projects will be shared with the five advisory committees of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. Following the closure of the online form, the advisory committees will review and align programs and themes identified with the guidance of Fourth Economy, the third-party consultant engaged to support the region’s proposal development. 

The intake of Strategy-Driven Programs and Projects and the Regional Cities Projects does not guarantee inclusion in the South Bend – Elkhart regional READI application. Should a project or program be selected for inclusion into the application, no promise of READI funding is being made, nor if a project or program isn’t included in the application does that mean it would not receive funding. 
To access the online Get READI South Bend – Elkhart Submission Form, please visit our website by clicking here. For those that submitted an “idea” through the previous form, please submit greater details about your project or program through this link.

Summary of READI Program Timeline:

  • July 1, 2021: Communities must identify their region and notify the IEDC 
  • July – August, 2021: Regions develop strategic plans 
  • August 31, 2021: Regional plans are due 
  • September – October, 2021: IEDC application review and regional presentations 
  • December, 2021: First round of investment decisions are made and financial partnerships announced ​​​​

About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan. The Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: Educating a world-class WORKFORCE, Recruiting and retaining great TALENT, Attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing INDUSTRIES, Promoting INCLUSION and sparking opportunities for minorities and Helping ENTREPRENEURS thrive. The Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually.

For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit



Manufacturing Readiness Grants Extended Through 2023, $20M Available

Launched in 2020, Manufacturing Readiness Grants have awarded $6.7 million to 87 Hoosier companies in 38 counties.

Applications for the Manufacturing Readiness Grant program, which was launched to stimulate private sector investments to modernize Indiana’s manufacturing sector, have re-opened to Indiana manufacturers across the state. Administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) in partnership with Conexus Indiana, this program has been extended through June 2023 with matching grants available to help respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic and position Hoosier operations for future growth and prosperity. Based on the strong response to the program, the Indiana General Assembly appropriated $20 million in the two-year state budget that runs through June 30, 2023.

Indiana companies are encouraged to review eligibility requirements and submit applications online.

Grants must be matched by the applicant on a minimum 1:1 basis. Grants undergo a rigorous peer review and recommendation process by a statewide committee of manufacturing professionals representing industry, academia, private equity and more.


MJB Wood Group Breaks Ground on Bristol, Ind., Expansion

By: Ron Barger Published on: Jun 23, 2021

With earth-moving machines in the background, business dignitaries and elected officials gathered Tuesday (June 22) afternoon to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new 500,000-square-foot production and distribution facility for the Dallas, Texas-based MJB Wood Group LLC.

The new facility will be located on a 37-acre parcel on State Road 120 in Bristol, Ind., just south of Country Road 21.

MJB Wood Group Board Members
MJB Wood Group board members Beth Parish, Timothy Coors and President Scott Griggs accept a commemorative plaque from the Elkhart County team.

Expected to open in April of 2022, the new facility will consolidate the current MJB Wood Group’s existing 228,000-square-foot facility in Elkhart, Ind., and will eventually employ over 100 people – about twice the number the current facility employs.

Cliff Caudill, the division manager for MJB Wood Group, said the facility will serve both the manufacturing and distribution side of the company, which among its other operations provides composite and engineered wood, plywood, LVL and LSL to the RV industry.

“We will be on about 38 acres in this 400-acre complex,” he told RVBusiness. “Mainly dedicated to distribution and inventory of products as well as some light manufacturing and assembly. We will be bringing in some new equipment and new capabilities for MJB to support the RV industry, as well marine, utility vehicles and cargo trailers.”

He explained that some of the support to these industry segments will encompassing more of its business units and include furniture and fixtures, millwork, doors and entry doors. Additional fabrication onsite will include cut-to-size panels for area OEMs as the facility includes a 100,000-square-foot fabrication area that will allow it to offer custom services such as cut-to-size, CNC machining, molding, kitting and light assembly.

“This will more than double our capacity for outbound goods,” added Caudill. “There will be semi bays in the new facility for outbound.” According to the company over the past five years, MJB has experienced tremendous growth in the region, exceeding 18% year-over-year revenue.”

Prior to the groundbreaking itself, Scott Griggs, a 14-year veteran of MJB who was promoted to its president in July 2020, took time to the share the future vision of the company with RVBusiness.

“Currently, our general manager, Cliff, and his team have done an amazing job with the limited capacities we are in currently,” Griggs said. “Now, with this new 500,000-square-foot facility, we will be integrating manufacturing and distribution into one location instead of three making us far more efficient. This will give us the ability to better service the RV industry and industries beyond giving us a platform to serve a Midwestern region.

“We are a unique company because, although RV is our biggest industry segment, we are heavy into doors, millwork, cabinets, fixtures and furniture. We bring in a lot of imports. So, we are one of those companies that put components of products into everyone’s daily life but they have never heard of us.”

Griggs added that having the rail spur was key for the new facility. “Not only having the rail spur here, but being able to unload the cars inside the facility is a game changer for our company,” he said. “Now we have total indoor unload with greater capacity and better efficiencies. Rail was a non-negotiable on this project for us. We just had to have it.”

“We are really thrilled to be here with this expansion at this exciting time,” added Nathen Klomp, MJB’s director of business development and marketing. “Business has been very strong over the past few years and this is something we’ve been wanting to accomplish. With as good as things are going in the RV industry and generally in the U.S. we think this is a strong play for us to support this industry in this region.”

MJB Chairman of the Board Timothy Coors, a fifth-generation member of the Coors Brewing family, summed up the day’s events.

“The Coors family is proud owners of MJB, and we are very excited to expand our investment and workforce in Bristol and Elkhart County to serve our growing, primary end markets of RV, cabinets, furniture, and transportation,” said Coors. “In Bristol, Ind. we truly have a supportive partnership with the city, county and community.  We could not have selected a better place to locate our new state-of-the-art facility for MJB.”

Stonemont Financial Group is the developer of the project and ARCO Construction Company is the general contractor.  Josh Wheeler of Stonemont Financial Group Development stated, “We are really excited to have a partner in MJB Wood with this big, rail-served facility that is their first facility of this type and will be one of their flagship operations around the country.”

It’s worth noting that also in attendance of the event were 10-plus government officials from the city, township, county and state, including Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who recognized the team effort that went into bringing the facility to Elkhart County.

Other dignitaries at the groundbreaking were: Indiana State Rep. Joanna King; Elkhart County Commissioners Frank Lucchese, Brad Rogers and Suzanne Weirick; Elkhart County Councilmember Douglas Graham; Bristol Town Council President Jeff Beachy; Bristol Town Councilmembers Whitney Pierle and Jill Swartz; Bristol Town Manager Mike Yoder; and Bristol Town Clerk & Treasurer Cathy Antonelli.


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