Hong Kong-based bootmaker Merchant House International Ltd. is seeking a foothold in the US state of Tennessee amid rising labor costs in China, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The company is one of many that have set out for cheaper manufacturing bases such as Vietnam, Indonesia or Bangladesh. Merchant House is preparing to begin production early next year at a 40,000 square-foot plant in Jefferson City, Tennessee, founder and chairman B.H. Lee was quoted as saying. Although the new factory is small, with about 110 employees making 200,000 pairs of boots the first year, any investment in U.S. shoe production is notable. Only a few US footwear plants remain. Imports account for more than 99 percent of the US market, according to the trade group Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America. Among the few other companies making shoes or boots in the US are New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc. and Onguard Industries, the report said. Merchant House has made work boots and other products in China since 1980, selling them to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears.
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