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Shoemaker Cole Haan Moving Headquarters from Maine to New Hampshire
10/11/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Cole Haan is leaving Maine. After 56 years in the Pine Tree State, the footwear and accessory manufacturer is moving its headquarters from Scarborough to Greenland, New Hampshire, where its customer service operations are based. The move comes less than a year after Cole Haan was bought by private equity firm Apax Partners from Nike for $570 million. Tom Porter has more.

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A company spokesperson, who did not wish to comment on tape, said the decision to leave southern Maine is part of a strategy to consolidate Cole Haan's eastern operations. The spokesperson could not say when the move will take place, nor how many employees it affects, but it's estimated that about 120 people work at the Scarborough facility.

Local economic development officials were downcast at the news. "The company has been a strong part of our community for so long. It's just a real disappointment to learn that this happening," says Chris Hall, CEO of the greater Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Hall says had no inkling that Cole Haan was planning to leave until he read a news article about it Friday morning. Karen Martin is executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation. While she says there's been no communication from the company, the news was not a complete surprise to her.

"We've heard rumors and understood that there were some things going on for the past month or so," Martin says. "Certainly last year when the company was sold to an investment firm, definitely a heads up that things are changing in the company. So we had reached out to them at that time, but they really haven't talked to us directly about what's going on there."

Martin says despite the setback, Scarborough remains on an economic upswing. "We are now above where we were pre-recession in terms of our total employment," she says. Last year, she says, 160 jobs came to Scarborough - more than 100 of them in manufacturing.

Such job creation stories notwithstandfing, many view the departure of Cole Haan as a familiar story of private enterprise leaving the state of Maine because of a perceived poor business climate. Just a couple of weeks ago, Forbes magazine ranked Maine the worst state for business for the fourth year in a row.

It's a trend which Gov. Paul LePage has vowed to reverse. Douglas Ray is with the state's Department of Economic and Community Development.

"This underscores the need for us in Maine to focus, as Gov. LePage continues to do, on policy changes that make Maine more competitive for private investment and job creation, so we can better attract and retain existing businesses, such as Tempus Jets, BarclayCard, Irving Forest Products and Molnycke," Ray says.

It was a message echoed by Republican state legislator Heather Sirocki, who represents a district of Scarborough. Rep. Sirocki says the Cole Haan news is "an indication that though inroads have been made recently, there is still much work to be done to improve Maine's business climate."

Republicans blame Maine's poor business climate on what they view as onerous taxes and regulations supported by Democrats. Democrats point the finger at the LePage administration for not doing enough to grow the economy and create jobs since he was elected in 2010.


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