New Balance has been in the news a lot recently.
It continues to make headlines as it fights for federal legislation that would force the U.S. military to buy athletic shoes manufactured in the United States (as the only athletic shoe manufacturer still producing sneakers in the country, New Balance would have that contract sewed up). And on July 29, it made headlines again as politicos from Washington toured one of its three manufacturing facilities in Maine to see how trade negotiations with countries like Vietnam could affect jobs back home.
New Balance, which employs 900 people at manufacturing facilities in Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Norway, continues to bring national attention to the struggles of a shoe manufacturer in Maine.
As the company’s competitors — Nike, Adidas, Reebok — moved shoe manufacturing overseas, the Boston-based company has committed to maintaining at least some of its manufacturing in the United States. The company’s commitment has put it at odds with those behemoths of the sneaker industry.
“It’s the philosophy of the company,” said Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s director of public affairs. “We’re a privately held company, so we can make decisions other companies couldn’t make. We’re not tied to quarterly statements, we don’t have to make every dollar on every pair of shoes we sell. So we decided it was more important to keep the backbone of who are we are, which is a manufacturer, and keep it here in the United States.”
That philosophy, and those 900 Maine jobs, are now at risk as the United States negotiates a free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with 10 countries in the Pacific region. Countries such as Vietnam, as well as major sneaker makers like Nike, are negotiating for the removal of several tariffs on imported athletic shoes, which if successful could force New Balance to shut down its domestic manufacturing.
“It’s literally us against every other athletic shoe manufacturer in the world,” LeBretton told the BDN.