BELMONT — Tiffin Motorhomes could have pursued its plans for expansion at the company`s production site in Red Bay, Ala. But instead, the company was lured next door — across the state line — to set up shop in the vacant Belmont Homes factory owned by Cavalier Homes.
The last 250 jobs at the former Belmont Homes manufactured housing factory were lost about a year ago. At one time employment at Belmont Homes was up to 1,200. The loss of that many jobs in a town of only 2,000 was a major blow.
Things are looking up now with the decision by Tiffin Motorhomes to locate in Belmont, investing $3.3 million in an expansion of their painting department.
Bob Tiffin, president and CEO, Tiffin Motorhomes, said the company was looking for a site to expand its paint facility. In the past, many motor homes were finished with a white gelcoat. But these days, expensive motor homes need full body paint, Tiffin said.
“Full body paint is beginning to become a big sales requirement in our business, and we don`t have a large enough facility in our plant to do all the painting we need,” Tiffin said. “Now our customers are requiring we paint the motor homes all over, what we call full body paint. That`s a long process.”
About 60 to 65 people currently employed at the paint facility eight miles away in Red Bay will be transferred over, and about a dozen employees will work in Belmont doing various finishing jobs. The facility is expected to open in April with the staff growing to 100 employees by the summer.
One reason for selecting the Belmont site was it allowed the company to get into production faster than constructing a new building in Red Bay. Tiffin purchased “Building 4”, a 90,000-square-foot structure that will be used to paint 2,000-2,500 motor homes each year. The RVs range in length from 28 to 40 feet, and in price from $80,000 to $225,000. Company models include the Allegra, Allegra Bay, Allegra Bus, the diesel-powered Phaeton and the upscale Zephyr.
Tiffin said there is a good market today for the kind of recreational vehicles his company produces.
“Some of the Baby Boomers are coming into the market, and our society is a traveling society,” said Tiffin, whose company has been in business for 31 years. “Many people feel better about traveling in motor homes than flying. We have a good network of U.S. parks and campgrounds all over the place. About 25% of our customers are full timers. They live in the motor homes full time.”
Development officials are hoping for continued growth at the Tiffin facility in Belmont.
“This has been a highly successful business that has done well in the North American market and has made a name for itself as a quality leader in the upscale RV market,” said Gary Matthews, executive director, Tishomingo County Development Foundation. “Their RVs are very plush. With the advent of the age of terrorism, Americans are doing more traveling at home. So the demand for RVs is extremely good.”
Belmont Mayor Bob Yarber said the town has been in economic doldrums for well over a year, which makes the Tiffin Motorhomes announcement particularly welcome.
“It means an awful lot for us,” Yarber said. “We are tickled to death to have a good quality company like Tiffin locate here. They will employ 60 immediately, and hopefully it will go higher. They are making a sizeable investment.”
Mayor Yarber is optimistic that more such welcome new development announcements will be coming to Belmont in the near future. Site selection activity has started up again recently, something that hasn`t been seen for quite some time.
“We’re optimistic that other things are going to happen now,” Yarber said. “With the economy showing signs of improvement, we feel we will be able to gain our share of it.”
Tishomingo has by far more vacant industrial buildings and industrial park acreage than any other county in the state. Approximately three dozen buildings are available from the failed Yellow Creek Nuclear Project and then a NASA rocket motor facility where $2 billion was invested before Congress pulled the plug on the project. The buildings have been deeded to the county and are available for industrial development.
New industrial developments and expansions have been slow for the past couple of years because of the soft economy But Matthews reports that currently they are seeing a “tremendous” spurt in industrial site activity.
“We have another development we will be announcing soon, and several expansions are in the works,” Matthews said. “We have seen a lot of activity because of all the vacant buildings.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.