Made in the Midwest: Red Wing Shoes Facing Overseas Pressure

Posted at: 02/25/2013 8:02 AM
Updated at: 02/26/2013 10:23 AM
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- When you think of Red Wing, Minnesota, you can't help but think of Red Wing Shoes.

They sort of go hand-in-hand, more like foot-in-foot. Since the company opened more than 100 years ago, the pressure is building for this global shoe brand.
Red Wing. What comes to mind first? The town or the shoe brand?

"Red Wing Shoe is Red Wing. That's who we are," said David Trulin.

Trulin has been making shoes here for 45 years. But his tenure is nothing out of the ordinary. Most of his colleagues have put in a few decades of work here as well.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do here," said Trulin.

"They do fabulous work, very high-quality-minded individuals," said Chris Zylka, director of manufacturing.

100-plus years after the first pair was made, you won't find a lot of high-tech machinery in the plant. Human hands still play a big role in the shoe-making process.

Each week about 23,000 pairs are made. From boots for the oil field to shoes for the office.

Cut, stapled and shaped to perfection.

Behind all the concentration, pressure is building for the company to move operations overseas. Just like most shoes companies have already done.

"It's a fight everyday," said Zylka. However, he doesn't believe a move will happen.

"I'm very passionate about making products in the U.S. Manufacturing is the backbone of the country. There's a lot of families fed when a pair of boots are made in the U.S." Said Zylka.

 So how does Red Wing Shoe thrive amidst overseas pressure? Zylka says speed and quality.

"We can take an order today, produce it tomorrow and ship it by the end of the week," said Zylka.

That creates a sense of job security that feels, well, like a pair of comfortable shoes.

"It's really kind of amazing that a small town manufacturer in Minnesota has been able to compete globally," said Trulin.

For him, this place is much more than work. He says it's more like "home. I spent the best part of my life here," said Trulin.

The reasons there's not a lot of high-tech machine at the Red Wing plant is most shoe crafting machines cannot handle the leather and all of the different measurements. Either way, officials say they prefer to do all of their work in the U.S.