ELKHART, Ind. – If there was any doubt whether the RV industry had a friend in GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, it was erased Thursday as he spent the day touring an RV plant, lunching with key executives and speaking before a rapt audience of some 80 industry reps at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt addresses a crowd of RV industry representatives at the RV/MH Hall of Fame on Thursday. (Photo courtesy GE Capital.)
During an upbeat hour-long talk and question-answer period, Immelt called the RV industry “a key industry for us” and closed by adding, “Thank you for your business and we hope we can do more in the future.”
GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF) is crucial to the RV industry as a major lender and helps floorplan more than half of all the nation’s RV dealers. That relationship will only get stronger, he vowed.
GE Capital has been lending money to facets of the RV industry for more than 30 years, but this was the first time that the GE CEO, CDF’s president (Steve Battreall) and president of the CDF RV Group (Tim Hyland) were together in Elkhart to meet with industry officials.
GE Capital’s “RV Industry Day” drew rave reviews from industry officials in attendance. Thor Industries Inc. President Bob Martin, who led the plant tour earlier in the day, said he was intrigued by Immelt’s interest in the manufacturing process. Others such as Wilbur Bontrager, CEO of Jayco Inc., and Phil Ingrassia, president of the RV Dealers Association, were gratified that Immelt spent a day in the RV capital and reaffirmed GE Capital’s commitment to the RV industry.
GE Capital likes doing business with RV companies, Immelt said, because most of them fall within what he termed the “middle market” with annual sales of between $10 million and $1 billion. Though a portion of GE’s $120 billion business is finance, the majority is manufacturing, which means that GE understands the mindset of manufacturers such as RV OEMs, he said.
Immelt was very upbeat about the direction of the U.S. economy but said one thing he worries about is a geopolitical event somewhere in the world that would dampen the economic recovery.
Immelt made these key comments pertaining to 2015 and beyond:
• Energy Dependence: “The U.S. is on its way to becoming energy independent,” while the world’s leading oil suppliers are all in turmoil. The price of oil is coming down which is “good for all of us.”
• Interest Rates: “I think the best thing for the country is for interest rates to go up,” he said. In the present condition, American businesses are “tired of interest rate” speculation, he said, which only stifles economic expansion. Though he is a former member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, he stressed, “I am not privy to anything” and could give no prediction when the Fed will ultimately raise interest rates.
• U.S. Competitiveness: The U.S. is “more competitive today than anytime I’ve been alive,” said Immelt, 59. The challenge remains, however, in “the gap between the number of jobs we’d like to see and do see.”