Why Black Diamond Is Halting U.S. Manufacturing
The Salt Lake City–based gear company is laying off 70 employees as it shifts its domestic factory to an assembly-only plant
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Black Diamond has forged carabiners at its Salt Lake City headquarters since the company moved there from Ventura, California in 1991, just three years after its founding. They’re among the products that launched the fledgling gear maker when it broke off from Chouinard Equipment nearly 30 years ago, and they remain one of the brand’s bestsellers.
Come this fall, that production will mostly move overseas, along with the manufacturing of hexes, stoppers, ice screws, ascenders, wall irons, and crampons.
Rumors first began last week when an anonymous Reddit user posted a screenshot of a social-media post outlining the announcement that had just been made to employees. On Tuesday, the brand confirmed that it had laid off 70 of the 132 workers at its in-house factory, as it shifts all machining of metal out of the U.S. and transitions its Salt Lake facility to an assembly plant. The downsizing will officially take effect sometime between September 1 and December 31. Remaining staff will build Camalots, ATC Pilot belay devices, skins, gym quickdraws, and ice screws from parts forged in other countries.
The change came about as the complexity of Black Diamond’s product designs began to outpace what its own machinery and technology could handle. “For BD to be competitive long term in the carabiner market we had to outsource the technology to develop the type of carabiners that we are designing,” said John Walbrecht, Black Diamond’s president, in a statement sent to Outside. “We could not do that competitively or technologically here in our in-house facility.” The shift has been in the works for several years. (Black Diamond’s new carabiners, set to hit shelves in the spring of 2020, are already being manufactured at a factory in Taiwan.)
International manufacturing is nothing new for Black Diamond. Almost everything else the brand makes, aside from core climbing hard goods, is already manufactured overseas. This includes skis and apparel. For nine years, Black Diamond owned a factory in China where it assembled, among other things, many of its carabiners. (Production came back to the U.S. in 2015.)
Walbrecht emphasized that deciding to let go of 70 employees, many of whom had been with the company for years, was not an easy task. But “it’s not about Salt Lake, Taiwan, or any one place in particular,” he said. “For us to live up to this mandate [of innovation], we need to lead always with design and development.” To that end, the company is hiring new designers and engineers at a fast clip. Walbrecht told SNEWS that Black Diamond has already welcomed 57 new staffers in 2019. Employes impacted by the downsizing will have access to severence packages and in-house resources like resume building and job fairs.
What will all the move mean for consumers? If history is any indication, we may see a hiccup or two. When the company closed its China factory and brought assembly back to the U.S., it wound up issuing a series of recalls for, among other things, carabiners, Camalots, and ascenders.
In the long run, however, it likely means there will be some exciting new products—or significantly upgraded ones—hitting shelves in the coming years.