PORTLAND – Eastland Shoe, one of a dwindling number of Maine shoe manufacturers, will close its Freeport factory and shift the work to overseas plants, the company announced.
The plant will close in September, leaving about 150 workers jobless, said Bernard Kazon, the company’s executive vice president.
“We have reached the point, as have so many other manufacturers before us, where our health and continued growth demands the use of off-shore shoes,” the Freeport company said in a statement on Thursday.
“After 46 years of manufacturing with a large and very loyal family of friends, it is a decision that comes with profound and deep regret.”
The company plans to keep its warehouse, distribution operations and administrative offices in Freeport, where it will retain 50 to 75 employees, Kazon said.
Making shoes in the United States is too expensive, Kazon said, and moving the company oversees will allow the company to become more effective.
“There was a time when the ‘Made in the USA’ label was meaningful, but the price difference was just too much,” Kazon said. “I have to admit that the foreign manufacturers have been very adept at learning how to make shoes. The quality is very good.”
Eastland Shoe has been moving more of its production to overseas manufacturers for the past few years.
The company closed a plant in Fryeburg in 1998 and another in Lisbon last year. The Freeport plant is its last.
“I went through the factory today and talked to people and this didn’t come as a surprise to anybody,” Kazon said.
The workers agreed.
“We kind of figured it was coming,” said Linwood Webber, a 27-year-old from Freeport who has worked in the factory for nine years.
“We haven’t been working full weeks for about a year now and there have been rumors for the last few months,” he said.