BOSTON (AP) — Shoe makers are racing to the Boston area as they compete for millennial talent.
Reebok picked the city’s rapidly growing Seaport District for its new global headquarters in December, following in the footsteps of New Balance and Converse, both of which opened splashy new headquarters in 2015 that helped redefine the city skyline.
Just outside the city limits, Wolverine World Wide Inc. — the Rockford, Michigan-based owners of Saucony, Keds, Sperry and other brands — opened a regional campus in Waltham for 370 workers this summer after moving it south from Lexington, Massachusetts.
And the Rockport Co., purveyor of casual and dress shoes, is slated to christen a new headquarters for 212 employees in the affluent Boston suburb of Newton later in January. The company was sold in 2015 by Adidas AG, the German sportswear giant that still owns Reebok International Ltd., to a standalone company formed by New Balance Holdings Inc. and a private equity firm.
The new locales recognize that younger, more skilled workers prefer to be closer to the amenities cities and their neighboring communities provide, such as better transit, more restaurants and greater cultural options, over more distant suburbs, industry watchers say.
“These companies cluster because they’re primarily looking for talent. You want to be where the people are,” said Matthew Powell, a sports industry analyst for the NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm. “They’re also trying to stay close to their consumer. Millennials are clustering in large cities, so it’s a great way to be plugged into where your consumer is.”
The moves also affirm that New England — historically the nation’s footwear-making region — remains a viable center of the industry, said Nate Herman, a senior vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association trade group.
Most shoe companies have long since moved manufacturing overseas or other parts of the country where labor is cheaper, but New England and the Boston area in particular still have the largest concentration of workers versed in design, sourcing, marketing and other aspects of the industry, he said.
Other shoe companies in the region include Clarks, the British shoe maker, which relocated its roughly 400 workers in its North American office from Newton to Waltham this past October, as well as PUMA, the German sneaker maker that opened a global office in downtown Boston in 2002 for about 150 workers and also has its North American headquarters located about 40 miles northwest of the city, in Westford, Massachusetts.
The concentration of shoe companies in Boston could help spur new innovations in the industry, said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson College in Wellesley.
“I think you’ll start to see this evolution of more refined footwear. You’ll see a resurgence in the artistry, design and development from this merging of fashion, innovation and design,” she said. “The talent is here to create a really unique ecosystem.”
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