- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

DEXTER, Maine Shoppers looking to buy goods carrying the "Made in the USA" label could get sore feet if they are seeking shoes that carry the tag.
A wave of closings of shoe factories in recent years means well-known brands like G.H. Bass and Cole Haan now are made overseas.
Just when it seems domestic production can't sink much lower, Dexter, Saucony and Eastland are shuttering their plants in Maine.
"For all intents and purposes, this type of manufacturing in Maine is dead. The handwriting is on the wall," said Bob Simpson, town manager in Dexter, where the Dexter Shoe Co. is laying off nearly 500 workers.
Maine's shoe industry is only a shadow of what it once was: The number of jobs peaked at nearly 27,000 in 1968 and now stands at about 3,500. Nationally, the shoe industry has dropped 88 percent, from 235,000 jobs in 1972 to just 28,000, the U.S. Labor Department reports.
An industry in which 98 percent of shoes were made in the United States in the late 1960s has undergone a complete reversal, with more than 90 percent of shoes now imported.
While the United States isn't expected to cede all shoe production to other countries, the latest plant closings show the slide in domestic production is ongoing, said Bill Boettge of the National Shoe Retailers Association.
Joining Dexter, Saucony and Eastland in announcing closings of plants over the past year were Converse in North Carolina, Lacrosse Footwear in Wisconsin and Rocky Shoes and Boots in Ohio.
These days, shoppers are finding fewer shoes made in the United States. More likely, the shoes are made in China, Indonesia, Mexico or any number of countries with cheaper labor.
"China manufactures more shoes than any other place in the history of the world. We'll never go to war against China because we'll be barefoot," said John Stollenwerk of Allen-Edmonds, a manufacturer of high-end men's shoes that has four plants in Wisconsin and one in Maine.
The reason for the plant closings is that the shoe industry remains a labor-intensive business despite strides in automation. Dozens of pairs of hands touch most shoes before they are boxed and sold.
In Dexter, workers at Dexter Shoe's flagship factory felt like a cloud was hanging over them as they watched one company after another shut down and send production elsewhere.
G.H. Bass and Cole Haan shut down their Maine plants in 1998 and 1999, and the trend caught up with Dexter a year ago with the closing of its Newport plant. This year, Dexter's Skowhegan plant closed and Eastland's Freeport plant closed.
Saucony is in the process of closing its Bangor plant and Dexter is closing its main production center.
Against this gloomy backdrop, some shoe companies thrive.
While at a labor disadvantage, domestic manufacturers like Arkansas-based Munro & Co. do have the advantage of being able to respond faster than offshore factories to changes in the marketplace.
Munro closed two plants this year, but kept 1,000 workers at its four remaining plants in Arkansas.
Maine's Sebago is still running, too, with 360 workers making Docksides and other shoes.
Dan Wellehan, president and chief executive, said he counts on customers who are willing to pay more for quality.

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