Business as Usual at Florida Parks
There may be a slender shaft of light emerging out of an otherwise very stormy economic sky.
The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) issued a press release Monday (Feb. 2) that said after a slow start, RV parks were doing as well this season as they did last year, and that some are doing better. The report was careful to add that this strength was not across the board, that there were exceptions and variations within areas.
This report also is not without its ironies, according to The News Sun, Sebring, Fla.
When Ray Miller, who is wintering at the Whispering Pines Village RV Resort in Sebring, was told the news, he shook his head and laughed.
It turns out he is from Elkhart County, Ind., where the recreational vehicle plants have been laying off workers for some time. Miller keeps up with his hometown newspaper through the Internet.
"They laid off 650 workers just this week," he said. "RV factory production is down 30%, and unemployment is over 17% in the county."
Yet those who already own RVs have them out on the road.
Witness the RV parks and campgrounds in Highlands County that are full, or nearly so. And they reflect the reported national trend.
Florida ARVC: "Right on Target"
Said Lynda Phelps, recently elected chairwoman of the Florida Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds, "We started the season slightly behind. However, we have recently increased and have exceeded expectations. We are right on target."
Sharon Roberts, office manager at the Lake Placid Campgrounds at 1801 U. S. 27 S., has seen exactly that here in Highlands County.
She explained that going into 2009 she had to be flexible regarding the three-month minimum lease policy the park exercises during the season, because business was slow.
Now, however, "I would have to say business is good," she said. "We're doing very good. We're full."
Up at Lake Letta RV Park in Avon Park, Danny Whitmore was too busy to talk in depth. "I wasn't the manager last year," he said, meaning he had no way of knowing how this year compared to last. But, "I'm full," he added before going back to his work.
Mary Cassidy has worked at the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Community in Sebring long enough to make a comparison.
"I'm doing better (than last year)," she said flatly. "We're doing well, very well. I have 157 RV sites and 75 mobile home sites, and I only have four left."
She added that there were still two weeks to go before the height of the season. Her customers, she said, weren't drawn to Highlands County for any particular event. "They are strictly people getting out of the cold."
Cold Weather Up North
Dan Littlefield, of Sebring Gardens Trailer Park, isn't surprised business is going well. Following warm weather is at the heart of his theory.
"The people ain't going to stay up North in the expense of the cold," he said. "And instead of coming down and staying on the coast for $1,000 they come inland, stay for $300 to $500 and get the same heat.
"That's why, when some people worried business was going to be bad, I didn't. It will be a long time before we're affected here."
Littlefield went on to say his season had started out late like so many others. Now, however, he was caught up and full.
Jim Ross, who hails from Kentucky, and Paul Harper of Ohio had stopped for a conversation at the Lake Letta RV Park. They echoed Littlefield's thoughts.
When Ross was asked what brought him to Highlands County, he said, "The price has a lot to do with it, and the traffic is not as bad (as it is on the coasts)."
For Hayden it was all about the weather. "It was 4 degrees in Toledo this morning," he said.
Charles Pollock has been coming to Florida from New Brunswick, Canada, for many years. He, too, reflects Littlefield's theory.
Pollock had begun his wintering adventures in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but "it really didn't stay warm enough up there," he said. He experimented with Sarasota and Orlando, but found them too expensive and crowded. He moved further south to Avon Park for one winter, and then four years ago discovered Sebring. Now he returns to the same camp every year.
Most respondents also credited their pensions for their peace of mind.
Ted Martel, from West Virginia, summed it up. "We were working when things were more stable," he said. That led to better and more generous retirement packages. "We had resources available to our age group that aren't there any more. So economically (the reason we're OK) is age and money."
While most of the people interviewed either ate at home or joined other RV park families for cook-outs and pot luck dinners, all reported eating out in area restaurants at least once or twice a week. Breakfast was reported as the favorite meal to eat out.