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Footwear Industries of Tennessee: Bootmaking Returns to the United States


You don’t have to live in the Lone Star state of Texas to appreciate a good pair of boots. Around North America, there are boot lovers in every generation, every state and province, and in every walk of life. Very few of the shoes Americans wear are made in the U.S., and that is not likely to change anytime soon. But for the first time in many years, a new, large-scale shoemaking factory has opened here.

The factory is in Tennessee and the manufacturer is an Australia-based company known as Merchant House International. The company has made shoes and boots in Tianjin, China and shipped them to the U.S. for many years. Yet, in recent years, their experience in China has been mixed. Labor costs have risen, as have raw materials costs. Moreover, currency policies, which for so many years helped China build its manufacturing base, are now somewhat less favorable for manufacturers in China, as well. These policy changes come as China strives to encourage growth of its consumer economy.

The plant in Jefferson County, Tennessee, is 40,000 square feet and will employ more than 100 workers. It is located in an old BAE factory within an existing industrial park. An estimated $5.4 million in equipment is being installed, some of it imported from Germany, to give it a capability of producing 5 million pairs of shoes annually. State and local government authorities provided incentives to help cement the deal.

The Tennessee division of the firm will be known as Footwear Industries of Tennessee, or FIT for short. Its product lines will include casual and industrial boots, and will continue to be carried in many U.S. retail chains.