By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
Following a months-long lull, an economic development official says operations may soon “kick back into gear” at Kanye West’s manufacturing facility in Cody.
West and his apparel business, Yeezy, began setting up a sample/prototype lab on the city’s northern edge in late 2019. However, there have been stops and starts.
Speaking on KODI 1400 AM last week, Forward Cody CEO James Klessens said leaders of the Yeezy facility on the city’s north side “put that on hold in October.” There was, he said, “a whole bunch of moving pieces in Kanye’s world and he just pressed pause.”
However, Klessens said his understanding is that Yeezy’s operation “is going to kick back into gear shortly.”
“I don’t know what date that is,” he said on KODI’s Speak Your Piece program. “But I understand that it’s on the plan to begin again in this first quarter of 2021.”
Speak Your Piece host Darian Dudrick noted that it’s West’s decision to make, “so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that everything keeps going as planned.”
“And I guess we have to be hopeful that it does occur,” Klessens responded. “You know, he [West] was right on the cusp, I think, of getting something really powerful built … and I believe that they’re still online.”
Yeezy is leasing a pair of interconnected facilities on Road 2AB that were previously used by Cody Laboratories. With some assistance from the state government, the pharmaceutical company had planned to construct a large drug-making campus at the site and add perhaps 100 jobs to the roughly 135 employees it already had. However, its corporate owner, Lannett Company, later backed out of the project, laid off its existing workers and shuttered Cody Labs in 2019.
Forward Cody owns a portion of the facilities being leased by Yeezy — a former Cody Labs warehouse constructed with the help of a $2.35 million state grant — while the company is leasing an adjoining building directly from Lannett.
Klessens welcomed West’s move into the then-vacant facilities in December 2019, calling the timing “so fortuitous for our community” and noting the jobs the move could bring. But in November, Klessens said he wished Yeezy would be more clear about its plans — and he expressed concern about a “‘here today, gone tomorrow’ type of relationship.”
“I am hopeful he [West] continues to explore investment in our community,” Klessens said on KODI last week. “I know his world changes rapidly.”
Although West became famous as a musician, he became a billionaire through his ownership of Yeezy.
When the rapper Lil Baby visited West’s ranch south of Cody in late July, “I didn’t actually see [West] work on music too much,” he said in an interview with NME that was published Friday. “But I saw him working more in a different form — working on his clothing line and his shoes. That’s even more inspiring than the music.”
Through a partnership with Adidas, Yeezy has launched a series of high-priced sneakers that have drawn intense demand. And last year, Yeezy and West kicked off a new partnership with Gap to create a line of “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points.”
West has indicated Cody could factor into Yeezy Apparel’s partnerships with both Gap and Adidas.
Adidas currently has two open jobs listed in Cody: a design director and a senior developer of footwear for Yeezy. Although the company originally posted the jobs in November 2019 and March 2020, listings on third-party job sites indicate they were re-posted within the last month — alongside additional posts for a senior manager of material development and a footwear pattern engineer.
Speaking on KODI last week, Klessens noted West has spoken about his desire to “onshore” Yeezy’s manufacturing process, by bringing operations back to the U.S. from places like China.
“I’m hoping,” Klessens said, “that we can continue to be one piece of that project that he’s bringing back stateside.”