Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., were introduced to a number of topics during their swing through Eastern Oregon last week, but perhaps one of the most poignant messages came from RV manufacturers.
A lot of ears perked up as executives from both Fleetwood and Keystone talked about some of the problems they are facing in the economic downturn.
That makes a lot of sense since more than a thousand jobs are at stake among these two firms and those that supply them. In a place where industrial jobs are at a premium, a thousand of them are a big deal.
It isn't that they aren't producing a quality product - they are.
It also isn't that their products aren't popular and in demand - again, they are.
Unfortunately, it's a quirk in the new lending practices of those who handle the bulk of RV purchases that's causing the problem.
Jim Croxton, who manages Fleetwood operations throughout the area, said he originally ordered 1,000 new units. He has since cut that number back to 450 - not because there aren't potential buyers but because problems in the lending system are eliminating solid buyers.
Right now, an estimated 50 percent of applications for credit surrounding an RV purchase are being turned down. Lenders, particularly giant General Electric, which seems to have corner on this market, are requiring a credit score of 750-800.
That doesn't make a lot of sense since historically RV purchasers have an exceptional record of repayment. Generally, those who purchase RVs are older and often have cash to use as part of the purchase. Beyond that, they usually have carefully considered their investment and are prepared to make the payments.
Merkley and Walden said they are aware of the problem and are trying to do something about it. They are hoping to tie some resolution to bills related to car sales since the auto industry has considerably more clout and the ability to produce change.
Croxton, along with Loren Schmucker and Tom Young of Keystone, don't really care where the resolution is tied - they just want to be able to produce and sell their units to qualified buyers.
Billions of dollars were poured into efforts to shore up America's banks. In most cases, the funds may have propped up their balance sheets and provided bonuses for the very people responsible for the crisis in the first place. Sadly, the money did little to help ease the credit crunch, which is stifling manufacturers like Keystone and Fleetwood.
Walden and Merkley came to Eastern Oregon to hear about our concerns.
Hopefully, they got a strong message about the need to address issues that are artificially stifling the sale of RVs.
In the end, resolution of our economic crisis will find its solutions at the grassroots level.
Unfortunately, the process was started at the top with big banks and Wall Street.
Now that we know the bailout didn't work, maybe we'll get down to the consumer level and begin to find avenues of hope that will actually make a difference.
Helping the RV industry may seem like a small bump on a big log, but here in Eastern Oregon it would make a tremendous difference.
To Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Merkley and Rep. Walden, here's a chance to take our message back to Washington.
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Editor George Murdock, Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez and Managing Editor Skip Nichols. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.