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April 24, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Fremont Shoes sets sights on downtown manufacturing plant

Craig Adkins has spent decades creating efficiencies in production lines for a variety of companies; his latest job was as vice president of fulfillment services for Zappos.

About a year ago, Adkins started working on a plan to start yet another venture: bringing shoe manufacturing, not just shoe distribution, to Las Vegas.

With support from the Downtown Project, an investment group that includes Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, Adkins expects his shoe-manufacturing business, Fremont Shoes, to open by the end of the year. He left Zappos in late 2012 to work full-time in his new capacity as the company’s managing partner.

Adkins said many shoe companies already have expressed excitement about having their shoes made in America.

“They want to have ‘Made in the USA’ on the box,” Adkins said. “And ours will be the same price, same quality and we’ll have a much faster turnaround than companies overseas.”

Interest is already so high, Adkins actually fears having to turn orders away until the factory grows.

He is looking for a midsized building close to downtown to house the machinery and factory headquarters.

Fashion-wear shoes, many designed for women, will be the first type of footwear made at the factory.

If Adkins’ business model works, he will be breaking a paradigm that has led to the decimation of shoe manufacturing in the United States over many decades.

By avoiding expensive tariffs placed on foreign goods sold in the United States, plus shipping costs, Adkins said he will make shoes at less cost than overseas. He noted most of the leather for shoes comes from the United States, meaning leather costs might also be reduced since it won’t have to travel as far to be turned into a shoe.

Turnaround time for orders will be much quicker, he added, than the typical five-month lag seen with shoes manufactured in other countries.

“So companies will get their stuff faster and for the same price,” he said.

His business plan also sees the plant becoming profitable in two years, at which time he plans to return “a lot of the profit” to employees.

“They will be making a very good salary in a few years,” he said, adding that initially salaries will be above minimum wage.

While the company is privately held, Adkins wants to make its operation as transparent as possible, saying he expects to offer factory tours to visitors in much the same way as at Zappos headquarters.

“My perfect factory would be one made of glass, where everyone can see every aspect of operation,” he said. “And if I can put it on Fremont Street, that would be all the better.”

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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