Economist Peter Morici advised RV industry notables Thursday morning (Dec. 2) that there are a lot more letters in the Greek alphabet when discussing the COVID-19 virus and its impact on the RV industry.
Morici, a professor emeritus of international business at the R.H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, regularly appears on network TV news shows and pens a column in the Washington Times.
He was the keynote speaker at the ninth RV Industry Power Breakfast, held Thursday morning at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., and facilitated by RVBusiness, the sister publication to WOODALLSCM.com. Event sponsors were Airxcel, Cummins, Winnebago Industries, Dometic, Wells Fargo Distribution Finance, Forest River, Kampgrounds of America Inc., Spartan Chassis, RV Industry Association and THOR Industries Inc.
His comment was in reference to new strains of the virus continuing to emerge as each are named for letters of the Greek alphabet, the most recent being omicron.
“It’s going to happen,” Morici said. “Simply because of the kind of environment we have in South Africa and Latin America. We’re going to get more strains.”
He said this means we are likely not in a COVID period, but a COVID era.
“It will not end abruptly, but will tail off over time,” he said. “And during this period, things like RVing will lock into the behavior of another generation.”
He noted that the busiest place in his hometown of Alexandria, Va., is a bicycle shop.
“Bicyclists are going out of that place like you wouldn’t believe. I’m a cyclist and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said “We’re becoming like Amsterdam and that is starting to lock into peoples’ behavior.”
He said like RVing, bicycling is a lifestyle, and once an individual gets into that kind of mode, “whether it’s RVing, whether it’s rock climbing, what have you. Fishing is coming back. Once you get into that, it becomes the way you live. So, going to Europe every summer goes away.”
The current climate of life-changing recreational decisions being made by consumers bodes well for the RV industry.
“In some ways, you have a remarkable opportunity,” he said. “I don’t know that you can grow as rapidly as you have in recent years, but certainly – even if you get the materials and workers and so forth – there are very positive things you can do.”
He suggested OEMs should focus on training programs.
“Fewer people are going to go to college. I would say you need to transition those training programs into an apprentice program that’s formalized, factory-based and pays,” he said.
As an example of what the industry is up against, Morici said a typical department of labor apprenticeship program pays $15 per hour, lasts one to two years and 90% of the students that finish get an average pay to start in the high $50,000s.
“That’s higher than the average graduate,” he said. “And these kids graduate with no debt. … You can give people what is so scarce today – the opportunity to become a craftsman, but I will say you have to up your game a bit as you have been doing, but you need to take it to the next level where you really have a formalized apprenticeship program which sends fresh people out into the factories and suppliers. I think if you do that, your industry will profit much better.”
He noted that the industry is entering a period where decision-makers should think long-term about succeeding.
“This is no longer a quick opportunity,” he said. “This is a long-term opportunity and I think the RV industry should see it in those terms.”