The expansion would double New Balance's annual production capacity in Skowhegan to 1 million pairs of footwear.
The New Balance factory in Skowhegan, is seen in this Oct. 22, 2020, file photo. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — New Balance wants to expand its operations in Skowhegan with a 120,000-square-foot addition to its factory and bring 200 new jobs to the area.

The footwear company is in the planning and design stages, working to develop more manufacturing at its Walnut Street site, said John Campbell, New Balance’s vice president of corporate services. Another 20,000 square feet within the historic mill building also would be renovated.

The proposal — an estimated $65 million investment from New Balance on construction and capital equipment — is in response to demand from consumers worldwide, Campbell said. Expanded manufacturing would boost the local economy and attract new residents interested in working at the facility.

It’s also part of a transformation happening in the Somerset County town, including the $8.6 million proposed Skowhegan River Park and related downtown revitalization; reimagining of the Spinning Mill to include a brewery, apartments and hotel; and other efforts.

“We’ve been here for over 40 years, and in our 116-year history, we have never taken on a manufacturing project as strategic [and] instrumental,” Campbell said, pointing out the company has never invested this much in manufacturing. “We’ve decided to do it here in Skowhegan if we can make it work.”

Campbell presented his plans to the Skowhegan Select Board during a meeting Tuesday evening.

The expansion would double annual production capacity to 1 million pairs of footwear, and grow New Balance’s workforce to about 450, up from approximately 250 now, he said.

The company would develop adjacently owned parcels to provide adequate parking, essentially creating a New Balance campus, Campbell said. The company has about 13 acres on the mill parcel and has acquired portions of the old Skowhegan Savings Bank and former ANC Auto Sales dealership, which would be demolished, he said.

“We’re very excited about this,” he said. “It’s challenging, but it’s something that is going to be a great opportunity not only for New Balance, but certainly the community at large.”

New Balance hopes to start construction on the new manufacturing addition in May 2023 and move in by August 2024, according to the company’s timeline. Then renovations in the mill building would begin and be completed by the end of 2024.

Manufacturing at the site would continue during construction. New Balance is working with Green Leaf Construction, based in Leominster, Massachusetts.  

Construction of the Skowhegan Factory began in September 1882 when $23,000 in stock was sold to townspeople, Campbell said, and it was built to attract a shoe manufacturer to the area.

Operations started in 1883 when the Keene Brothers Shoe Co. from Massachusetts leased the factory for a decade. Bloomfield Shoe Co. leased it in 1893, and then Commonwealth Shoe Co. of Boston in 1899, according to Campbell’s presentation.

In 1907, the Marston Worsted Mill, also known as the Anderson and Arms Mill, opened and produced fabric. In 1915, the American Woolen Mill bought the building and operated there for several years, with workers later converting it to a shoe factory again. In 1981, New Balance bought the space.

Campbell wants to work closely with town officials to make the plans a reality and discuss tax-increment financing, he said.

The town’s committees are working on interconnectivity between the downtown, schools, bike paths and recreational areas, said Steven Govoni, a Select Board member.

One of those connectors falls adjacent to the New Balance building, so he’d like to see the company and town coordinate efforts, specifically for drainage, he said. Campbell and Govoni also talked about ensuring associates have access to nearby walking paths.

“We’ve known this project has been going on and have talked at length to see what we could do to connect and support that,” Campbell said.