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By Kimberly McMillian

Correspondent

DAYTON, Tenn. - The more than 400 employees of Suburban Manufacturing in Dayton received news this week that the recreational vehicle industry that it serves is on the path to recovery from the depths of the economic downturn.

"Sales have doubled" for the industry, said Mel Adams, president and CEO of Airxcel Inc., parent company of Suburban.

Mr. Adams made his comments as he visited the Dayton plant in observance of what the recreational vehicle industry is promoting as its centennial year.

The deep economic recession caused people to tighten their budgets and habits, but the RV industry has seen people adjust to fluctuations with gas prices, he said.

"They may not go as far," Mr. Adams said, but "boomers are still coming and retiring."

Airxcel, based in Wichita, Kan., acquired Suburban in March 1998 and made the Dayton operation a division. Airxcel manufactures heating appliances and air conditioning and other specialty applications. The company began as Recreational Vehicle Products Inc. in 1991 and changed its name in 1997.

fast facts

* RV industry employs more than 250,000 Americans, with a combined payroll of around $4.9 billion.

* Since June 2007, industry layoffs due to the recession total approximately 280,000 - 53 percent of the total work force.

* Most recreational vehicles are made in the U.S., with more than 60 percent coming from Indiana, and another 15 percent coming from Oregon and California.

* One in 12 vehicle-owning households owns an RV, around 8.2 million households, and a 58 percent gain since 1980.

Suburban Manufacturing Co. began in 1948, originally making clothes dryer and heaters. Later it introduced RV gas furnaces and cooking appliances to its product line.

Mr. Adams thanked employees for their contributions in the RV industry. He additionally offered special congratulations to the 76 people who had worked 30 years or more with the company.

"It's a great place to work for a local boy," 41-year employee Clayton Conley said. "Suburban sets a standard to work by" for their employees and products, he said.

"We're so proud," said Mr. Adams as he handed a plaque and gift certificate to Jesse Fine, an employee since 1960. "It's an outstanding achievement," said Mr. Adams.

"I was never one to quit a job," Mr. Fine said.

Mr. Adams concluded the celebration and said, "The future needs to be on the people" who build the chassis and water heaters.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net.

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