EXETER, N.H. -- Nike Inc., manufacturers of athletic shoes, announced Friday that 350 people -- up to 75 percent of the workers at its New Hampshire facility -- will be laid off in July because of poor sales.
Nike plans to consolidate its northern New England operation in Saco and Sanford, Maine, leaving only 150 to 200 people in the research division of its Exeter plant, said spokesman Peter Stipe.
He said he was uncertain if any of the laid-off workers would be offered jobs in Maine. The Nike plant, which opened in Exeter nine years ago, is the largest manufacturing facility in the town.
It was the second Nike consolidation announced in the Seacoast area in three weeks. Last month, Nike said 150 people from its manufacturing plant in Raymond would be moved to Exeter. Stipe said the 350 lay-offs announced Friday includes those workers.
Nike President Philip Knight said plants in Malasia and Hong Kong are also shutting down, reducing Nike's manufacturing facilities by 2 percent.
A statement from Knight said the closings would allow the company to 'balance production capability with sales and to reduce product costs.'
While the closing of Exeter's largest plant came as a shock to many town officials and employees, Stipe said, 'I expect people in manufacturing saw the handwriting on the wall. Whenever a plant isn't making money, you can see it coming.'
But Barbara Hanscomb, a plant inspector, described the workers' reaction as dumbfounded.
'Everybody just tried more or less to keep up everybody's good spirits (when the announcement was made),' she said. 'We're just wondering what's going to become of us.'