From the ashes of Cody Labs, Kanye West’s new manufacturing facility rises

Posted 8/11/20

Kanye West’s company is continuing to move forward with its efforts to start up a shoe and apparel manufacturing facility on the City of Cody’s northern edge.

Yeezy has “spent …

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From the ashes of Cody Labs, Kanye West’s new manufacturing facility rises

Posted

Kanye West’s company is continuing to move forward with its efforts to start up a shoe and apparel manufacturing facility on the City of Cody’s northern edge.

Yeezy has “spent significant time and money putting together a complete prototype manufacturing center,” Forward Cody CEO James Klessens said in a recent appearance on the KODI-AM 1400 program Speak Your Piece. “It’s pretty amazing the equipment and the machines that they’ve placed in there.”

The former Cody Laboratories warehouse on Road 2AB “is now filled with all of these sewing machines and all of this equipment that they use to build prototype sneakers and clothing,” Klessens said on July 21. In the adjoining building, Yeezy has been installing heating and electrical systems, elevators, he said, with plans to begin manufacturing “over the course of the next seven to eight months — maybe even shorter term than that.”

“I know they’re working really hard, and they’ve got some pretty awesome crews in there doing the things that they need to do,” he said on KODI.

Last month, city planning officials approved Yeezy’s “Phase 1” plan to renovate the former Cody Labs facilities. The work involves removing many of the components that were installed specifically for the pharmaceutical industry and are no longer necessary, City Planner Todd Stowell said at a July 14 Cody Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Yeezy is also rearranging the parking lot and utilities and adding new doors, siding, roof top units and a new 4 by 8 foot sign, among various other changes.

“Basically just making everything so it fits the new use,” Stowell explained.

The 11,300-square-foot warehouse is owned by Forward Cody, constructed with the help of a $2.53 million state grant in 2015; Cody Labs later built an interconnected, 82-foot-high production building alongside it. The hope was that the buildings would serve as the first pieces of a sprawling new drug-making campus for Cody Labs, potentially creating as many as 100 new jobs over the course of a decade or more. However, Lannett Company, Cody Labs’ owner, halted construction and made the decision last year to shut down all of its operations in Cody last year as part of cost-cutting efforts and a strategic change in the generic drugmaker’s direction.

Klessens said on KODI that Forward Cody “went a long ways” to try finding another pharmaceutical company to move into the warehouse “and it just didn’t, couldn’t occur.” While Lannett and Cody Labs continued paying the roughly $100,000-a-year rent under a long-term lease, they weren’t providing any jobs, Klessens noted — which had been the whole point of the public-private partnership. So when West and Yeezy expressed interest in setting up shop in the building about eight months ago, “we were really, actually rather fortunate,” Klessens said.

While Forward Cody has been effusive about their new tenant, Lannett Company has said next-to-nothing about its arrangement with West on the other portion of the building. In its most recent quarterly report, Lannett officials dryly offered that the company had “signed a two-year agreement to lease a portion of the [Cody Labs] real estate to a third party.”

Lannett has continued cutting jobs and costs since laying off some 70 local workers and pulling out of Cody and last year; the corporation announced last month that it was eliminating 80 more positions, mostly at a plant in Seymour, Indiana.

In contrast, West told the Cody Enterprise last month that he plans to add jobs to the local economy and to “definitely” open a store in Cody. It remains to be seen how many positions are created — Klessens speculated about the possibility of 50, 100 or maybe 200 employees over the next couple of years — but many will be entry-level jobs with highly specialized training, Yeezy officials told the Enterprise.

The company is continuing to partner with Adidas on a line of popular, high-end sneakers and recently announced a new apparel partnership with the Gap to create “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points.” The New York Times reported that it’s a 10-year deal, with Gap “hoping that Yeezy Gap will be generating $1 billion in annual sales” at the halfway mark.

Yeezy is itself a multi-billion dollar business, wholly owned by West. It wasn’t immune to the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving a forgivable loan through the federal government Payroll Protection Program that totaled somewhere between $2 million and $5 million, according to data released by the Small Business Administration. The money, primarily intended to help employers make payroll during the rough economic times, helped preserve 106 jobs at Yeezy, according to the data.

The company is incorporated in Delaware and based out of La Palma, California, according to business records, but West has described Cody as Yeezy headquarters.

When the musician and entrepreneur first announced the new partnership with Gap in June, he specifically mentioned his new home; he tweeted out featured an image of a person pulling items from a duffel bag emblazoned with the words, “DEVELOPED BY YEEZY AND GAP IN CODY WY.”

Speaking on KODI last month, Klessens said the Yeezy leaders “want to do business here in Cody.” He added that there’s another clothing company and a music company interested in the area, “and it’s absolutely and totally because he’s [West] here.”

“We’re immensely blessed that they chose Cody to center their whole operation. I think that’s just an amazing thing,” Klessens said. “And I think we need to be really grateful for it.”

However, he predicted that the biggest challenge for West — who has a stated goal of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. — will be “getting competent people who are willing to be trained in this industry” and understand they may start on a production line before moving up.

“Let’s help them by being the workforce that they need,” Klessens said. “And that will anchor them in this community for the long haul.”

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