RV supplier to bring hundreds of jobs to South Bend

SOUTH BEND — RV supplier Lippert Components plans to bring 180 jobs this year to the former A.J. Wright distribution center on the city’s west side, with the possibility of adding hundreds more in coming years.

Lippert, which is based in Goshen, makes windows, mattresses, upholstered seating and other accessories for the RV and manufactured housing industries.

The company plans to lease the whole building at 1902 W. Sample St. for 12 years and sublet half of it to another distribution company, city officials announced this morning.

Lippert executives are committing to creating 180 jobs this year with a wage of $12.50 per hour. The number of jobs is projected to reach 380 during the next 10 years.

The company envisions taking over the entire facility in 5 or 6 years and building an expansion for large-scale manufacturing that would employ up to 700 people at the site.

Lippert’s plan is welcome news.

The site at Olive and Sample streets has been notably vacant since A.J. Wright, a discount retailer, closed its warehouse in February 2011 and put almost 700 people out of work. City officials and business leaders have been trying for three years to find a new tenant for the massive building, which is large enough to cover more than nine football fields.

South Bend-based Holladay Properties bought the building with a partner in 2012 and renamed it the Interstate 80 Commerce Center.

Jeff Rea, the president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, said the building has received a lot of attention from businesses. “We’ve provided more information to folks about that building than any other building in our region,” he said.

“This is a good day for the southwest side,” said South Bend Common Council President Oliver Davis, D-6th. “Bringing new life to this facility will provide opportunities for many people and have a multiplier effect on the surrounding area, creating even more jobs.”

The city’s Department of Community Investment has been negotiating with Lippert for several months and will discuss incentives for the company at this morning’s Redevelopment Commission meeting.

The two items on the table, according to the city’s announcement, are a two-year tax abatement for the building and a $250,000 expenditure of tax increment finance revenue to buy equipment and lease it to the company. The Common Council will decide whether to grant the tax abatement. The Redevelopment Commission will have its say on the TIF spending.

It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Lippert.

KEVIN ALLEN South Bend Tribune kallen@sbtinfo.com