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October 9, 2015

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Joe Downtown: Shoe manufacturer to join Zappos in locating downtown


Leila Navidi

The Zappos temporary offices on Carson Avenue in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 26, 2012.

Zappos on Carson

Nicole Galgano, left, Launch slideshow »

It goes without saying these days that all large-scale, light manufacturing – shoes and clothes, for instance – must be done in factories in other countries.

People associated with Zappos and the Downtown Project are about to turn that adage on its head.

Sources close to the project say a shoe manufacturing plant will be in operation by the end of the year in Las Vegas, hopefully somewhere downtown.

“It’s all but a done deal,” a source said.

When up and running, the plant will employ 231 people full-time; many more temporary employees will be hired during peak buying seasons.

The source said the plant would be tooled to manufacture brand-name shoes. Because much of the detailed work on shoes is done by hand, experienced workers will first have to be imported.

“The difficulty will be finding labor,” the source added.

A public announcement about the plans is expected in a few weeks, he also said.

More than 50 years ago, most shoes sold in the United States were manufactured here. Today, only 1.5 percent of the shoes sold in the United States are manufactured here, the source also said, because of long-held beliefs that it is more economical to manufacture them in labor-cheap countries like China. However, he added, the numbers “pencil out” for creating a plant here; not only will employees be paid a “living wage,” he added, “they will probably do much better than that.”

Bringing back manufacturing jobs from other countries to the United States is currently something of a mini-trend in other areas of production. Product quality, tariffs, rising pay scales and delivery issues all have contributed to the trend.

For instance, sources said, it can take three to six months for China-built products to reach the United States.

Companies such as General Electric, NCR Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the Christian Science Monitor reported last year, already have moved some production back to the United States from China.

The online newspaper also noted, however, that “high-labor” products “like shoes, textiles and most clothing are probably gone forever.”

That is about to change, the source said.

“These companies want their products to be known as ‘American made,” he said. “They are going to be able to do that.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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