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Sen. Mike Enzi on Wyoming’s Promise for US Manufacturing: On the Hill

Amid the continued turmoil of a global pandemic and increasingly strained relations with China, brands and retailers across the country are looking to the second half of 2020 for a Hail Mary. A turbulent social landscape and economic worries have contributed to constrained consumer spending, forcing the sector to look for new approaches to keeping businesses afloat.

According to Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the antidote to 2020’s many ills may lie in adaptability. The senator, himself a former executive at his family’s own Wyoming-based footwear business, NZ Shoes, told Sourcing Journal that businesses must now pivot to develop forward-looking strategies that work.

“Being a small business owner is never easy,” he said. “One of the most important things I learned from my time in the shoe business is to plan ahead,” he added, “whether that means prepping for the holiday season or finding new ways to innovate and engage with your customers.”

While the senator acknowledged that the Covid crisis has brought about unprecedented challenges, chief among them a “rapidly changing economy,” he urged business owners to evolve readily as they learn to navigate these difficult times.

Wyoming’s retail sector has been working to adapt to a “new normal” since the peak of the pandemic in March, when stores were shuttered and shoppers’ fears about infection mounted. “Instead of getting ready for the summer inventory, stores have been forced to make decisions about how to simply stay afloat,” he said.

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But the fact that physical retail faced obstacles has not meant that consumers stopped spending.

“It’s important to keep paying attention to what the customers are looking for and adapt to those needs,” the senator said. That could mean pivoting when it comes to product, or engaging with shoppers through online platforms and social apps while many physical businesses remain closed.

“You cannot sell anything if you do not have a customer listening,” he said. “I learned that as a business owner and it proved helpful during my time in the Senate when I pitch my legislation to my colleagues.”

While e-commerce has been steadily growing as a sales channel for a decade, “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an even bigger increase in online spending,” the senator added. “I’ve seen many Wyoming retailers shifting to online services, putting more attention and focus into their websites and social media pages.”

This evolution makes their products even more accessible to consumers across the state, the nation and the globe, he said.

Americans are rapidly changing the way they shop based on factors like convenience and safety, and brands are rushing to go digital to support those appetites. While the senator supports moving forward, he also warned that shoppers should be mindful of putting dollars back into their local economies, even if they’re doing most of their shopping on the web.

“While it may be cheaper for a consumer to order a product online, in the long run it hurts their neighbors and their community,” he said. “That money isn’t helping the local economy as much as it could.”

He added that American retail is being stymied by “cheaper, lower-quality products coming from places like China,” which he believes have forced small business owners to engage in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

“Buying local can help create jobs, drive economies and sustain communities,” he said. “It can provide funding for needed projects—anything from road maintenance to technology updates in schools.”

The senator is optimistic about the recovery of Wyoming’s retail sector as businesses head into the fall season. By May, 12,546 small businesses across the state were granted $1,021,746,840 in PPP relief loans through the CARES Act, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). “We have already seen many of the jobs filled,” through relief efforts, he said.

He hopes to see further boons to Wyoming’s retail sector through his continued work on the bipartisan Opening Up America Again Congressional Group, which was established by the Trump administration in April to chart a course forward on issues like providing relief to small businesses, bolstering international and domestic supply chains, energizing the economy, and more.

“The impact of the coronavirus on global supply chains was clearly an awakening for many businesses,” the senator said. “The way businesses operate will likely never be the same, and I would hope that those in retail and other industries realize the benefits of keeping manufacturing at home.”

In recent months, the industry has been rife with rumblings from players across the fashion industry looking to bring operations closer to home. Brands are exploring near-shoring opportunities in Central and South America, as well as in U.S. manufacturing hubs like Los Angeles, where the industry employs tens of thousands of workers in design, branding and manufacturing.

But Cody has captured the special attention of bombastic presidential hopeful Kanye West, who is said to be laying plans to build a campus for the production of his Yeezy brand in the Wyoming town. Taylor Shupe, founder and CEO of China-based vertical sock manufacturer FutureStitch and veteran co-founder of DTC sock brand Stance, has also expressed interest in opening up a manufacturing hub in the region.

The senator didn’t rule out the idea of Wyoming becoming a potential hub for stateside production. “People in the United States are the most innovative people in the world, and I like to think that people in Wyoming are the most innovative people anywhere,” he said. “Our state attracts those kinds of people.”

The state’s thriving small business culture and vast expanses of land make it an ideal locale for nascent companies, he added. “We have plenty of space for businesses to grow and expand, and we have smart people to help take those businesses to the next level.”

It’s also imperative that American brands cease off-shoring jobs to “overseas competition,” he said, citing a need to contend with the “unfair trade practices coming from China.”

“We should be looking to create jobs and increase production in the United States to promote growth within our businesses here at home,” he added.

As the sector—and the world—prepare to head into the holiday season, the senator ruminated on his own experience in the industry, and what today’s rocky retail landscape could mean for commerce.

“Holiday seasons are often the busiest season for sales,” he said. “This year we are facing unprecedented challenges that will affect the way businesses and families prepare for it.”

“People may not be searching for new clothes or shoes the way they have in past years,” he added, but regardless, the season is ultimately about giving.

“Many small businesses offer a unique opportunity for customers to feel inspired and hopeful about the future,” he said. “These difficult times will fade, and I’m optimistic we will come out of it even stronger.”