Under Armour CEO at SXSW: Innovation can return manufacturing jobs to U.S.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank speaks on Monday during a SXSW Interactive keynote.

Arnold Wells/Staff

By: Christopher Calnan

AUSTIN—Under Armour Inc. CEO Kevin Plank spoke at length on Monday about the business benefits of going digital during an interview at South By Southwest Interactive.

But almost as an aside, the founder of the sports apparel giant said he also wants to use innovation to bring back to the United States some of the 270,000 manufacturing jobs the company generates internationally. Plank didn’t get a chance to elaborate on his comment as it was made toward the end of his appearance, which attracted more than 3,000 spectators at the Austin Convention Center.

An Under Armour spokeswoman said it is planning to open local manufacturing hubs under what it calls the Lighthouse Initiative. Planned to debut in Baltimore in 2016, the Lighthouse is a facility dedicated to advancing the way footwear and apparel is produced locally, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. The goal is to help enable Under Armour manufacture products in Baltimore for the local market.

Under Armour (NYSE: UA), founded in 1996, has bought three technology companies and combined them into a Connected Fitness division that now claims 164 million digital community members. The company fitness apps are generating about 130,000 downloads per day, Plank said, and the amount of information such members provide can be very valuable to a business.

“Data is the new oil,” he said. “The companies that do well are the companies that use math.”

Under Armour established its Connected Fitness division in Austin with the $150 million purchase of MapMyFitness Inc. in 2013. The startup’s CEO, Robin Thurston, is now the division’s director and Under Armour’s chief digital officer.

Under Armour employed 5,800 full-time workers at the end of 2015 and reported revenue of more than $3.9 billion last year, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

During Monday’s session, Plank also promoted the company’s UA HealthBox, a $400 device that combines a scale, activity tracker and heart rate measurer. The company has yet to provide any details about its mid-2015 acquisition of Gritness Inc., an Austin-based fitness scheduling software maker.

Plank said he founded the company with the simple goal of providing a shirt athletes could comfortably wear under their uniforms.

“I couldn’t believe no one even addressed this,” he said. “It’s been an amazing story. We’ve had an incredible run.”

Under Armour CEO at SXSW: Innovation can return manufacturing jobs to U.S.