Conservation scientists recently listed the world's most 100 endangered species, including the three-toed pygmy sloth.
They could just as easily have included another endangered business species, the American athletic shoe manufacturer. Just one of those left, and it has a large presence in our region and state: New Balance.
While many here are familiar with the company's popular outlet store on Route 26 in Oxford, the company also operates factories employing about 900 people in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan.
While clearly viable, the company's continued viability depends upon tariffs levied on Southeast Asian imports.
Of particular concern at the moment is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-nation agreement under negotiation.
One proposal calls for removing the tariffs on foreign-made athletic shoes, a move that New Balance says could doom its 1,400 workers in the U.S.
U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk is touring the New Balance Norridgewock factory today and the company hopes to impress upon him the importance of those jobs in rural Maine.
But if you think the issue is simple — jobs here vs those in Vietnam — you would be mistaken.
New Balance is in a much tougher fight than that.
While it has enlisted the support of Maine Congressman Mike Michaud, across the country some U.S. shoewear giants have the ear of Congressman Earl Blumenauer.
The Portland, Ore., Democrat has three of the biggest athletic shoe companies in his district, Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sports.
While you might think they would be on the same save-the-jobs page as New Balance, they are not. They operate no factories in the U.S.
Nike obtains 29 percent of its footwear from Vietnam, according to the Portland Business Journal. Adidas, headquartered in Portland, gets 29 percent of its footwear from Vietnam and Columbia receives 92 percent of its shoes from China and Vietnam.
They all object to the $250 million they must pay to import those shoes from the eight nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
They call that a "tax" they must then pass along to U.S. consumers.
The curious thing here is that the U.S. shoe industry really does employ a significant number of Americans. About 300,000 people work in design, marketing and retail sales.
But only 12,000 people in the U.S. are still engaged in making shoes.
In April, Congressman Blumenauer circulated a letter calling the athletic shoe tariff a tax on consumers and "discriminatory" to manufacturers.
"If there's an import duty of 10 or 20 percent, that makes all those shoes more expensive. The consumer ends up paying and it's not entirely clear what the benefit is," according to Blumenauer.
He would, of course, understand that benefit very quickly if he were running for re-election in Maine's 2nd Congressional district — jobs.
We have spent the past 30 years watching one basic industry after another move overseas. The legacy is shuttered factories in the U.S. and service-sector jobs.
Meanwhile other countries, like Germany, have wisely protected and invested in basic manufacturing.
We urge Ambassador Kirk to stand with American workers and protect the last of these endangered jobs.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.