Prime Tanning have announced their intention to reopen their local plant in Berwick to meet the need for more military footwear in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Around 150 people will be working two shifts to produce leather the Pentagon needs for combat boots for reservists, active-duty personnel and National Guard troops being deployed as part of the country’s campaign against terrorism. The Rochester plant will remain closed. ‘The decision to close had to be made’, said president Ken Purdy. ‘If there hadn’t been a tragedy, we’d still be closed.’

Although Purdy has no contracts yet with the Department of Defense, he is confident the company will be called upon by the military as there is only one other tannery in America certified to produce military leather.

‘The increase in demand for leather for military footwear is expected to be twice next year what it is this year’, said Purdy. The undoing of the domestic shoe industry has been cheap foreign competition, but even that is playing out differently since September 11, according to Purdy. Foreign products are now subject to extra security checks, and American shoemakers are beginning to turn to domestic producers such as Prime Tanning if they are not prepared to wait for the leather to be checked.

Purdy also said that since September 11, there has been more American interest in buying US-made products. ‘There is a bubbling patriotism out there that wasn’t there before September 11’, he added.

Reopening the tannery is a gamble, admits Purdy, but one both he and other industry experts agree has a good chance of paying off. The Berwick facility will be a smaller, low-cost tannery with a narrower focus and market.

For the 150 potential workers at Berwick, Purdy stressed that the reopening will be a permanent move, and any severance or financial assistance that has been given to laid-off employees will be unaffected. ‘This is not a short-term window of opportunity – this is a long-term investment’, Purdy said.