“IT’S BA­SI­CALLY A HIGHLY OP­TI­MIZED VER­SION OF A MID­DLE AGES COB­BLER’S BENCH CROSSED WITH A FORD MODEL T PRO­DUC­TION LINE”

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TIF re­quest is so sub­stan­tial, it would limit the city’s abil­ity to is­sue other bonds with­out hurt­ing its credit rat­ing. “Baltimore is a deeply seg­re­gated city and has been for the past cen­tury,” says Lawrence Brown, a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­nity health and pol­icy at Mor­gan State Univer­sity. “A project like Port Cov­ing­ton, where there’s no fair-hous­ing man­date and no prom­ise for liv­ing wages, is re­ally a missed op­por­tu­nity. It’s reify­ing and in­ten­si­fy­ing the ‘two Bal­ti­mores’ prob­lem we have now.” In its sweep­ing vi­sion and un­prece­dented costs, Port Cov­ing­ton is an ex­am­ple of the in­creas­ing in­flu­ence cor­po­ra­tions are hav­ing on city plan­ning.

Oth­ers are con­cerned about ear­mark­ing so much money for a new devel­op­ment com­pany with no ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing at this scale. Dur­ing a re­cent meet­ing, mem­bers of the city’s Ur­ban De­sign and Ar­chi­tec­tural Review Board pointed out that pre­lim­i­nary de­signs for Port Cov­ing­ton looked some­thing like a mil­len­nial day­dream, one that in­cluded a whiskey distillery and mak­erspace, but no post of­fice or fire sta­tion or li­brary or school. (A sub­se­quent plan cor­rected those omis­sions.) Asked if he is wor­ried about crit­i­cism that he’s es­sen­tially build­ing a syn­thetic, Dis­ney­land ver­sion of Baltimore—all crab boils and race­horses—Plank says, “Why is that a bad thing? I love Dis­ney­land. The pur­pose of Dis­ney­land is to make peo­ple smile.”

The Dis­ney vibe is hard to ig­nore dur­ing the June tour of the Light­house, the first part of Un­der Ar­mour’s head­quar­ters to open in Port Cov­ing­ton. The rest of the area is still largely un­de­vel­oped, but the Light­house of­fers an early idea of the scale of Plank’s vi­sion for both his com­pany and this part of Baltimore. Plank is an avowed fan of the “wow” fac­tor, which is pre­sum­ably

why en­ter­ing the Light­house has been en­gi­neered to feel a lit­tle bit like step­ping into a theme park ex­hi­bi­tion. Vis­i­tors walk into a dark­ened cham­ber, where they watch a jump-cut-heavy video that spells out the am­bi­tious idea be­hind the fa­cil­ity: Namely, as other in­dus­tries have cap­i­tal­ized on tech­nol­ogy, gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing is stuck in the past. When the video ends, black glass doors slide open to re­veal a gleam­ing 133,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity full of hum­ming ma­chines and tech­ni­cians wear­ing white lab coats em­bla­zoned with the red Light­house logo. It’s at once the­atri­cal and in­spir­ing.

This is Plank’s first visit to the Light­house with most of the ma­chin­ery op­er­a­tional, though some mas­sive 3D print­ers won’t be de­liv­ered un­til later in the week. Plank seems jazzed to see the place up and run­ning. The Light­house is not just a new fa­cil­ity but also a prov­ing ground for what Plank calls “lo­cal for lo­cal” pro­duc­tion, Un­der Ar­mour’s goal of man­u­fac­tur­ing its prod­ucts in the same place it sells them. “Even in a very ad­vanced footwear man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity, you still have 150 or 200 peo­ple touching ev­ery pair of shoes that moves down the line,” says Kevin Ha­ley, Un­der Ar­mour’s pres­i­dent for prod­uct and in­no­va­tion. “It’s ba­si­cally a highly op­ti­mized ver­sion of a Mid­dle Ages cob­bler’s bench crossed with a Ford Model T pro­duc­tion line. It’s crazy.” In con­trast, the Light­house will al­low the com­pany to test stream­lined, nim­ble, tech-cen­tered pro­duc­tion lines that may re­quire only a dozen work­ers. If they prove vi­able, they could be set up across the coun­try close to points of sale.

“Vi­sion” is an­other big word for Plank. When he speaks about Port Cov­ing­ton, the Light­house, Baltimore, lo­cal-for-lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, it’s clear that he sees all his plans feed­ing into one an­other. Star­tups us­ing equip­ment at the Foundery, a Plank­funded mak­erspace that’s next to the Light­house, will come up with ideas that Light­house en­gi­neers will in­cor­po­rate into Un­der Ar­mour prod­ucts. Other cut­ting-edge com­pa­nies will re­lo­cate to Baltimore, want­ing to tap all this new en­ergy. Their em­ploy­ees will move to Port Cov­ing­ton and spend, pro­vid­ing the tax base the city so des­per­ately needs. Lo­cal-for-lo­cal may even bring man­u­fac­tur­ing back to the city.

Whether that all proves to be vi­sion or mi­rage is yet to be seen. In any case, when Plank sits down with Ha­ley and Randy Har­ward, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing, for an up­date on the Light­house, with a re­porter watch­ing, he seems ea­ger to show that he is fo­cused on de­tails. “Five years from to­day, how long is our lead time on the sup­ply chain?” Plank asks.

“You’ll still have some things tak­ing 12 to 14 months, but you’ll have 30 to 50 per­cent of your prod­uct made within three weeks,” Har­ward says. “I hate to use the term Lego—but, well, think of Lego blocks. We’re try­ing to think how [the man­u­fac­tur­ing process] can be it­er­ated in small blocks, rather than where the in­dus­try has been go­ing with these mas­sive, mas­sive, mas­sive ma­chines. So, not us­ing a huge $5 mil­lion ma­chine, but this $9,000 printer that we have right out there.”

Plank leans back in his chair. “But we need to get be­yond nov­elty,” he says. “Peo­ple say they’ll pay more for some­thing made in the U.S., but they won’t ac­tu­ally do it.”

“They won’t be buy­ing it be­cause it’s a nov­elty,” Har­ward says. “They’ll be buy­ing it be­cause we have the right size and the right color and the right de­sign when they want it.”

Un­der Ar­mour is hardly the only com­pany ex­plor­ing how to use au­to­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy to stream­line sup­ply chains and move pro­duc­tion on­shore. In 2015, Nike said its plans to in­crease do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion could cre­ate as many as 10,000 en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs over the next decade. Un­der Ar­mour ex­ec­u­tives say they’re bet­ter po­si­tioned to take ad­van­tage of a rapidly evolv­ing in­dus­try. “Un­der Ar­mour is at that per­fect size where we’ve got enough scale to in­vest the mil­lions of dol­lars it re­quires to take on some­thing like this,” Ha­ley says. “But we’re also small enough that we don’t have a $30 bil­lion sup­ply chain star­ing back at us, say­ing, How are you pos­si­bly go­ing to turn this bat­tle­ship around?”

For Plank, the re­vi­tal­iza­tion project ex­tends be­yond Un­der Ar­mour. “We have 250,000 peo­ple mak­ing Un­der Ar­mour some­thing at any given mo­ment,” he says. “In the next three years, we’ll add an­other 200,000-plus. And zero of them are pegged to come back to the U.S., be­cause we’re all chas­ing cheap la­bor all over Malaysia and the far cor­ners of the earth. It’s a crime. We couldn’t find a way to get 1,000 jobs back here? Or 5,000 jobs? Or 10,000 jobs? When you look at what’s hap­pen­ing in Ferguson, what’s hap­pen­ing in Baltimore—it’s jobs, we need jobs, and we’re shed­ding all our jobs to other places. The abil­ity for us to bring that back, that’s the big idea.”

It’s a long way to even 1,000 jobs. By the end of the year, the Light­house will have just 100 full-time em­ploy­ees, half of them en­gaged in man­u­fac­tur­ing. This fall, Un­der Ar­mour plans to of­fer a ver­sion of its 3D-printed shoe to the wider re­tail mar­ket; it will be man­u­fac­tured in a New Hamp­shire fa­cil­ity that em­ploys only about a dozen peo­ple.

Mean­while, Plank will con­tinue his ag­i­ta­tions, small and large, to sup­port the en­twined fu­tures of Un­der Ar­mour and the city of Baltimore. “It is re­ally hard work, it’s re­ally dan­ger­ous in­vest­ing, it’s re­ally costly, and it’s a re­ally big deal—but I think it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “What I re­ally want to do in life is to build the bad­dest brand on the planet. I would love to do that at the same time as an­chor­ing it in a city that could re­ally use a hug. It seems like such a waste for us not to take ad­van­tage of the mo­men­tum that Un­der Ar­mour has right now.”

Re­cently, Plank was watch­ing the morn­ing news and no­ticed that the na­tional sta­tions showed the weather fore­cast for Wash­ing­ton and Philadel­phia and New York, but not Baltimore. So he asked the Un­der Ar­mour pub­lic-re­la­tions team to call up the net­works to ask them to in­clude Charm City, too. “It’s about mak­ing sure Baltimore isn’t for­got­ten about,” he says. “Get­ting us front of mind, putting us in that con­ver­sa­tion. Ev­ery­thing we do is about el­e­vat­ing that brand.” <BW>

In April, pro­test­ers de­manded a halt in the ap­proval process for $535 mil­lion in city bonds to de­velop Port Cov­ing­ton un­til a new mayor and city coun­cil take of­fice.

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