I knew I was in a special town as soon as I drove in, passing manufacturing plant after plant. I checked the population again. Was it possible that Nappanee, IN only had a population of 6,710? From the number of plants and workers that I saw on the drive into town, it looked like it could be double or triple that size.
Larry Andrews, head of ED and the Chamber who put on a wonderful regional workshop that I spoke at called Light The Fire, told me, “We’ve got over 12,000 people working in town each day.” I’ve been collecting towns with more workers than residents that I visit. My list is less than 10 and none that have such a high ratio!
“We’ve got a great cluster in the RV industry. We build everything from $15,000 travel trailers up to $1 million luxury motor coaches. Fairmount, with over 2,000 employees, just landed a $521 million FEMA contract. Newmar, which makes the high end motor homes, has over 1,000 employees. We’ve also got a number of smaller companies which supply the industry from everything from parts to components like doors, cabinets and furniture. There are also 130 small Amish “shingle shops” scattered across the countryside and that are growing dramatically.”
Whenever I visit a town I have our research department print me out a census report along with their comments. The data on Nappanee was greatly different from every other town I visit. The average age was 15% below average (good); high school grads 5% below (bad); college degrees 60% below (very bad); in labor force 25% higher (excellent!!!); medium household income 10% higher (wonderful); and families below poverty level 50% lower (superb). Just looking at the data was confusing, but after visiting the town I’ve gotten a much better understanding of what is behind the numbers. I’ll have more analysis and commentary on my experiences in the next couple of days.