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Portland economy runs with the sneaker set

John Sepulvado Nov 26, 2015
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To show that it’s getting really serious about sneakers, athletic apparel company Under Armour is opening a big design office not far from Nike’s world headquarters, and the North American headquarters of Adidas. So who’s the big winner in the fight for the $20 billion footwear market in the U.S.? Portland, Oregon.

That’s because Portland – a sneaker hub – attracts companies like Ghost Works, a top shoe design shop. Ghost Works founder Eirik Nielsen used to work at Adidas as a designer. There, he helped develop the Kobe 1 and 2, a design line that helped change popular sneaker aesthetics more than ten years ago. 

When Nielsen left Adidas and became a design consultant, he could have moved anywhere in the world. But he chose to stay in Portland because “it’s the mecca” of the sneaker industry. “This is where the talent and the brains are,” Nielsen said.

With all that talent, there’s a lot of industry competitiveness, and  that competitiveness drives a lot of good works in Portland. For example, Adidas helped pay to build a soccer park in an city neighborhood.

“From an economic standpoint, the sneaker market, the sports wear industry overall, it’s growing,” said Adidas Brand Director Simon Atkins. “And that has an inevitable impact in the Portland community at large.”

Customers on line at Adidas in Portland. 

While some charitable works are part community do-gooding, there may be some corporate dueling going on as well. Take Under Armour. The new player in town recently paid the city of Portland more than $5 million to renovate a park that used to be maintained by Nike. Meanwhile, Atkins says the competition to be the best also creates a lot of jobs.

“We’re growing considerably at Adidas America,” Atkins said. “Let me give you an example: you go online today, and we’re looking at over 80 open jobs to hire within Adidas alone, with plans in 2016 to grow even further.”

And for Portland, growing is good.

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