OUR VIEW: Athletic shoe tariff protects jobs in Maine

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.

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

Noone can compete....

Many years ago, I worked as a truck driver for a large shoe company. We had four factories in MA, two in ME., and two in MI. Part of my job was keeping all the plants supplied and to bring finished product back to Boston.
I watched as this company started closing one plant at a time, using the union against the workers. They were quietly moving everything over to Haiti. There they could pay workers three dollars and fifty cents per DAY, as apposed to seven to eight dollars per hour. That was good money in the late seventies and early eighties.
What got me was the practice of having the entire shoe made in Haiti, but left in two pieces. Then it was shipped to the US, where the two pieces were put together. Thus allowing them to use the "Made in the US" logo. This company still operates today, out of Cambridge MA. Nothing is manufactured in the US any more.
Not all these fly by night operations are foreign businesses. They are American business men and woman, satisfying their greed on the backs of the poor. They should be made to pay through the teeth. Nothing will stop this roller coaster ride, but hit them in the wallet. Maybe that will help whats left in this country........

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Well Frank, perhaps $3.50/day

Well Frank, perhaps $3.50/day is a good wage in Haiti. Anyhow, isn’t just as greedy to what to keep the jobs here forcing all consumers to pay more than they have too for the same shoe?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

You didn't quite get it....

3.50 per day is disgusting anywhere. These people/children, were living in shipping crates to be near these jobs. I meant seven to eight dollars wasn't a bad wage here.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

“..were living in shipping

“..were living in shipping crates to be near these jobs.” Have you seen this with your own eyes or just repeating something you heard?

Have you ever traveled aboard to the developing economies and witnessed this first hand?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I've seen enough...

I used to pick up returned shipping containers from the Chelsea shipping terminal, fully furnished. Thats not how I dropped them off when they were loaded with factory equipment heading to Haiti. Actually it was pretty disgusting.....

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Perhaps you witnessed

Perhaps you witnessed evidence of human smuggling. Anyhow, you have no knowledge as to the origin of the contents, so you cannot claim the factory workers resided in these containers. Just my opinon.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I cut myself off....

My point, had not as much to do with the cost of a pair of shoes. It was intended to show how low the greedy corporate types will go. As long as you asked, I don't mind paying more for locally made products, at least I can sleep at night. Just one other little tidbit, these shoes, and lots of other things are made in foreign factories, for next to nothing. They are still marketed in the U.S. Think about that the next time you pay a hundred twenty dollars for a pair of sneakers.......

MARK GRAVEL's picture

First off, I never, ever have

First off, I never, ever have or would pay $120 for a pair of sneakers. Perhaps you are shopping in the wrong stores.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

You gotta get out more........


MARK GRAVEL's picture

Frank, Notice that I did not


Notice that I did not say sneakers were not marketed at that price. I said I ever paid that amount. That is a fact.

Let's hope that you did not pay that absorbent price for a pair of sneakers.

Amedeo Lauria's picture


I agree with Rex! Looks around for lightning bolts.

All US manufacturers need is a level playing field. It is difficult to compete with countries paying extremely low wages.

As any student of economics knows a tariff, if correctly placed, makes it a level playing field. Our television production industry was destroyed when countries outside the United States dumped low cost TVs on us while our US companies, and jobs, disappeared. The same with our auto industry. It wasn't automation and efficiency; it was LOW wages in other countries that made the products cheaper.

Welcome to the new world order, the left loves so much. How is that globalization working for you. (89 million unemployed Americans and counting)

Vote for conservative candidates in November who will bring jobs back to American with lower taxes, business incentives, and the elimination of mindless regulations.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

1. Tariffs do nothing but

1. Tariffs do nothing but raise the price of the product for the consumer.
2. There is no such thing as a level playing field. There is much more to establishing a “level playing field” than just labor costs. There is a plethora of regulations to consider; a western economy will always come up holding the short end if the stick.
3. While I would rather see a conservative in the white house, I hold little hope the current GOP knows how to fix the economy, perhaps just slow down the destruction.
4. The entire issue of outsource or automation will be self-correcting when the customer base dries up. That is, people earning little to nothing will not be buying goods and services – suicide for business; however, we still have a ways to go.

Better living through smaller government.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Athletic shoe tariff protects jobs in Maine

Rex , 16:10 hst ? Thursday
. . The cat's probably out of the bag on this issue by now . What we mean to say is , if Wally World ® gets all their shoes from the Peoples Republic of China ( P R C ) , Thailand , or Sri Lanka , there's not much ME can do . Boos and shoots , shoes and boots , http://www.doc.gov has heard it all before . Dexter ® , Timberland ® , L . L. Bean ® boots ( not even athletic shoes :)
What can a responsible business person do ? How many jobs are you protecting ? http://www.heritage.org can probably tell you ?
You'd be better off to get B I W to build destroyers for Italy and Mozambique than protecting these semi-skilled jobs mentioned in the atricle
Prohibitions , taxes , trade wars , and tariffs do not work except for in the decidedly short term
E-mail your Congresswomen about that instead • 
We've often discussed in here how they have missed the boat on B I W contracts . They simply go to Lake Charles , LA , U S A ( American bottoms - Buy America legislation - Buy Union products https://www.gdbiw.com/ )
h t h ? /s, Steve

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I was under the impression

I was under the impression that Maine BIW contracts were tightly coupled to how Maine’s Congress members vote.


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