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Wolverine devours Chaco

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jeffc | Jan 28, 2009 02:33 PM
Chaco.factory.Paonia
Photo by Jeff Chen

Inhabitants of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico left the region between 1130 and 1180 as the climate changed and drought set in. Today, a migration is occurring as a result of another climate change – the globalizing economy.

Chaco Inc., a footwear company based in Paonia, Colo., has been sold to Wolverine World Wide, Inc., the corporation that owns other outdoor equipment brands including Merrell and Patagonia Footwear.

“The difficult business environment had a play in it,” owner and CEO Mark Paigen says of the move. “I thought the best path forward for the Chaco brand was to hitch our wagon onto that of a larger company.”

Back in 2003, an HCN feature by Hal Clifford pointed out the hardships of manufacturing outdoors equipment in the U.S. At the time, Chaco employed about 100 workers. Their factory and the three underground coal mines in town are, and have been, the economic engine of Paonia, a town of about 2,000 on Colorado's Western Slope.

As predicted in the feature, Chaco, like other equipment manufacturers, wouldn’t stick around for long. Over the years, free trade would move Chaco’s manufacturing operations to China. And just last week, the company was sold.

The official word is that the 43 individuals still employed in Colorado will stay employed through the end of May. Decisions for after May have yet to be determined, says Paigen.

It’s tough to say exactly what’ll happen, but a group of Chaco staff will soon visit the Wolverine plant in Michigan to draw out plans for the transition. If it's anything like the company’s major manufacturing move to China in 2008, it looks like Chaco will provide a number of unemployment services including health insurance and job fairs for current employees.

Around town, most people empathize with the decision but can't help feeling a little resentment. The general consensus: it's a big loss for a small town.

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