File Photo . Bill Clifton the director of molding operations inspects shoes at the OKA b. facility located in Buford.
BUFORD -- Surviving in the shoe manufacturing business has been a struggle for Buford business Okabashi.
Nearly 30 years ago, when the firm located here, about half of shoes sold in the United States were manufactured overseas. Now that number is up to 98 percent.
Seven years ago, company CEO Bahman Irvani said he hit the lowest point -- sending samples for the new season all the way to Hong Kong, since an American company had outsourced all of its shoe decision makers out of the U.S. market.
On Friday, though, Irvani and Okibashi reached a new high point, celebrating an expansion that will soon allow the company to nearly double its workforce and triple the facility's production.
"It's a happy day when we can announce more manufacturing jobs," Irvani said, adding that since his company was one of the few surviving U.S. shoe manufacturers, it is primed to take advantage of the new trend of people seeking to buy American made products.
Instead of expanding its Okabashi and OKA b. products, which are "niche brands," the company has made deals to manufacture brands from other companies at its Buford facility, Irvani said. When new equipment arrives in about six weeks, the company will begin a process of hiring 150 new workers.
The opportunities, Irvani said, are "mind-boggling."
"We'll add more equipment and create more jobs in Gwinnett County," he said. "We are in the most phenomenal business-oriented environment that one could imagine."
Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the story of Okabashi's perserverance is inspiring.
"Jobs, but particularly manufacturing jobs are a scarce commodity in the U.S. today," she said, adding that Buford's history as a shoe-making town from the turn of the 20th century seemed an appropriate site for the resurgence. "There can be good that comes from not following the crowd."