Keen CEO reflects on White House experience

Keen CEO James Curleigh joined other big wigs from companies like MasterLock and DuPont, to discuss what they are doing to help with job creation at home and what can be done in the future with President Obama at a January forum. Curleigh reflects on the experience with SNEWS.
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Though Keen CEO James Curleigh (photo, top row, right corner) maintains it was his good looks and charm that got him invited to the White House to participate in the Insourcing American Jobs Forum with President Obama, SNEWS suspects it has something to do with Keen’s recent commitment to manufacture some of its products domestically. 

Just over a month ago, Curleigh joined other big wigs from companies like MasterLock and DuPont, to discuss what they are doing to help with job creation at home and what can be done in the future.

“These companies are choosing to invest in the one country with the most productive workers, the best universities, and the most creative and innovative entrepreneurs in the world,” President Obama said at the forum, “and that is the United States of America.”

In 2010, Keen made a commitment to begin to manufacture some products domestically. To do that, the company established three manufacturing operations, one in its hometown of Portland, Ore., where it manufactures footwear, another in North Carolina where it manufactures socks, and the last in California where it manufactures bags.

Though Keen has created jobs with the move -- U.S. jobs for the company are up from 95 to 130 since the three plants were established -- that was not how the company approached the situation. Rather, Curleigh said, the company made a commitment to invest in its team and invest in innovation and the jobs came through that strategic move.

And Curleigh wants to be clear that Keen still has a manufacturing presence in Asia and other parts of the world, but opening the three manufacturing facilities is “one small step for insourcing in America, and one giant step for Keen in terms of thinking differently in pioneering new ways and manufacturing, product design, development and innovation.”

But whether he set out to create jobs his efforts were recognized, which was pretty neat, Curleigh said, and being able to meet President Obama was incredible.

“All politics aside I was super impressed with the fact he had a command with the dynamics of the issue,” Curleigh said. “I think he truly tries to represent a vision beyond the election cycle and into the future.”

President Obama outlined his proposals to increase American jobs at a press conference after the forum, including a proposal to add $12 million to the budget of the SelectUSA program created more than a year ago to promote corporate investments in the United States.

Curleigh said the outdoor industry has a distinct advantage to jumpstart the trend of insourcing because of its environmental and recreational focus. “Let’s get on our game and have a vision toward 2020 that will make us an industry that’ stronger than ever.”

--Ana Trujillo

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