• KEEN Inc. produces its products around the world but chose to open an assembly plant in Portland, Oregon for a new product line in 2010.
  • Numerous cost factors weighed into the decision to manufacture in the United States rather than overseas, including the changing dynamics of labor costs overseas, transportation costs, protecting intellectual property, quality control, and opportunities for increased productivity. 

Opportunities for productivity improvements in production often go hand-in-hand with a more highly skilled labor force.  KEEN Inc., for example, has moved some of its manufacturing back to the United States.  Numerous factors played into the decision, but increased productivity was one of the benefits.

KEEN is a specialized footwear company founded in 2003 and headquartered in Portland, Oregon.  The company makes footwear, bags and socks targeted at consumers living what the company calls a "HybridLife," that is, consumers who lead life splitting their time between work, play, and giving back to the community.

KEEN produces its products around the world.  However, in 2010 it chose to open a footwear assembly plant in Portland, Oregon for a new product line, steel-toed shoes, bringing 30 jobs to the city. 

James Curleigh, KEEN CEO when the plant was opened, discussed the decision in a variety of public forums, citing numerous cost factors that weighed into the decision to manufacture in the United States rather than overseas.  Among these factors were the changing dynamics of labor costs overseas and transportation costs, in addition to protecting intellectual property. 

Quality control and productivity were highly important.  According to Curleigh, "One of the challenges that I think we see on a global economic level is that when labor is too cheap, there is no incentive to automate to improve productivity. So the kind of vision we had was, 'Can we improve the quality of the job, the quality of the labor, and introduce some automation to improve productivity?' and what we are finding is that we are starting to see that balance point in our factory in Portland."