MOBERLY — Little evidence of the sport of boxing shows in this small, quaint town that was left on the economic ropes after an exodus of jobs in the late 1980s and early 1991.
But boxing equipment manufacturer Everlast is doing its part to beat back more job losses after it consolidated its operations and made its Moberly plant the only place in the United States to produce a range of equipment for professional and amateur boxing.
On Oct. 31, Everlast Worldwide Inc. officials said they would relocate their New York operations to Moberly. The transition from the Bronx plant to Moberly should be complete by Thursday.
Since the announcement, the number of employees has increased from 125 to 149. George Horowitz, chairman and CEO of Everlast, says he expects that number to reach 175 by early 2004.
Though the company is consolidating, Horowitz describes the relocation as positive.
“We’re keeping a plant in the United States where we’re probably the only boxing company that has (a plant here) or certainly (the only one that) makes professional equipment in the United States,” he said.
“There is no other (company), and here we are moving to the middle of the country and growing it.”
Moberly’s economy revolves around working-class jobs. The residents are friendly and accommodating. Several of them lost their jobs when companies such as Dupont and Toastmaster pulled out of town.
But there’s evidence that city leaders are all too aware of a tendency to underestimate Moberly. On each of its two water towers is the slogan, “Moberly ... more than meets the eye.”
Though there is no boxing gym or club, the company has donated equipment to the local high school, and the YCMA’s executive director says there are plans to start a boxing club.
Downtown, two sporting goods shops among the sparsely filled storefronts stock Everlast equipment, though boxing plays second string to more popular sports such as basketball, football and soccer. There is a sense among Moberly residents that, in spite of the growth Everlast brings to the community, the town has seen better days.
“I lived here during the ’80s when things were booming,” says Zach Richardson, owner of Show Me Sports.
“We had the mine. We had all the other manufacturing jobs here, and then in the late ’80s they all left. So Moberly was just sucked dry in the early ’90s.”
Jim Brooks, who owns Championship Sports, another small sporting goods store just down the street from Richardson’s shop, says the loss of Dupont in 1991 had the greatest effect on the town.
“The big killer was Dupont, and that’s the only one that really devastated us,” he said. “It took an awful lot of nice people, and well-paying jobs and a lot of good kids in the schools.”
“Downtown hurts,” Richardson said. “We don’t have the people here.”
Russell Runge, economic development director for Moberly, said that Everlast stands “in the middle to lower middle” in terms of size and number of employees in Moberly.
But his list of larger employers reveals a type of workforce common to most communities as well as an absence of the manufacturing jobs that
Everlast brings to Moberly.
“The Wal-Mart distribution center has over 400 employees, the correctional facility has over 700 employees, theand the school system has over 600, the hospital the same. There are several (businesses) in the area that employ over 300 people,” Runge said.
Runge says he sees the Everlast factory providing economic diversity to Moberly.
“I’d like to see a continued diversification because if you have all of the proverbial eggs in one basket, you’re just looking to be hurt,” he said.
“(Everlast) is definitely a unique operation in the area, and it does fill a void that others aren’t in the community.”
The plant, located on Route DD at the edge of town, spans 304,000 square feet. “It’s just really grown a lot, and it’s a very, very important place for us,” said George Horowitz, chairman and CEO of Everlast.
He said that before the transition, the plant mainly produced boxing bags such as heavy bags and speed bags as well as amateur and retail gloves.
After the transition, Horowitz said the plant will begin producing professional equipment that is used by fighters at the professional, semi-professional and the highest amateur levels. Much of the professional equipment is handmade. The plant will also begin producing boxing rings.
Both Richardson and Brooks say that they do not sell many Everlast products and that there isn’t a boxing club or gym in Moberly, an absence that Brooks says reflects the sports’ lack of vitality.
“Personally, I see it as a dying sport,” Brooks said. “I don’t know anyone training to be a fighter. There is no opportunity to go to matches in Missouri that I am aware of. I don’t hear hardly anything about golden Golden Ggloves anymore.”
But Horowitz says he sees boxing growing at the international level. He correlates Everlast’s growth with its place in international sports.
“We are in over 80 countries with licensees and various products, “ he said.
“”From nutritional products to apparel and many other things. So yeah, there’s a great heritage in the states in boxing with all of the great champions from Jack Dempsey and people that wore our product and Lewis, Marciano, Ray Robinson, Tyson and Muhammad Ali, but it’s a worldwide sport.”
Regardless of the sport’s vitality, Everlast is leaving its mark on Moberly. Last year, the company donated athletic equipment to Moberly High School and other area schools.
“They donated a lot of jump ropes, a significant number of weight bags, punching bags, punching gloves,” says Kenny Seifert, Moberly High School’s athletic director. “They made the donation to several schools in Randolph County. They did it on their own accord.”
Seifert describes it as “ironic” that Moberly, a town without any type of boxing program, is the only U.S. city to produce Everlast boxing equipment. But Nate Seidl, executive director of the Randolph Area YMCA, says that in the future, Everlast and the YMCA will be working together to form a boxing club, though he was short on specifics.
“We are definitely going to be working with Everlast at some point,” Seidl said. “We are looking at starting a boxing club through the YMCA that would work with young kids.”
Time will be the final judge on whether Everlast will keep its U.S. presence while the company makes most of its money from overseas licensees. These companies pay Everlast to use its name on products other than boxing equipment.
Horowitz says the company is committed to Moberly.
If Horowitz he has his way, the company’s boxing products will keep American workers employed.
“That’s our expertise,” Horowitz said. “And that’s what we think we are better at than anyone else, and it’s also our heritage.”