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Lawmakers tour Under Armour's Locust Point headquarters

Jessica Pezzola, manager of corporate hospitality for Under Armour, and Stacey Ullrich, director of corporate giving, show the employee basketball court to Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger and Rep. John Sarbanes at the Under Armour headquarters in Locust Point.
Jessica Pezzola, manager of corporate hospitality for Under Armour, and Stacey Ullrich, director of corporate giving, show the employee basketball court to Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger and Rep. John Sarbanes at the Under Armour headquarters in Locust Point. (Lorraine Mirabella, Baltimore Sun)

The lawmakers who visited Under Armour's global headquarters in Locust Point on Monday saw employees lifting weights in a two-level gym and chatting over lunch in the Humble and Hungry Cafe.

They learned that Under Armour "teammates," many of whom did play sports while in school, have huddles, not meetings, and regularly test and give feedback on the brand's athletic shoes, shirts and other workout gear. They saw the basketball court that hosts both employee tournaments and annual gatherings for retail representatives. And they got a peek at the top-secret Innovation Lab, a hub for ideas such as the Highlight football cleats Under Armour unveiled a few years back.

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Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, toured the Locust Point campus for the first time to get a look at the inner workings of the fast-growing sports apparel maker. Hoyer was joined by fellow Maryland Reps. John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Hoyer said the sports clothing company should serve as a model for business owners looking to develop companies in Maryland and across the United States. Under Armour, founded nearly 20 years ago by CEO Kevin Plank, reached $3 billion in sales last year and has expanded overseas. Last week, the brand reported its 19th consecutive quarter of sales gains of 20 percent or more and announced the acquisition of two makers of digital fitness applications.

"I'm proud that this is a company that started in Maryland and is now a leader in our nation's sportswear market," Hoyer said. "It is important that we continue to encourage companies like Under Armour to innovate and create new products."

Hoyer requested the Under Armour tour as part of efforts to lead the "Make It in America" initiative. The plan by House Democrats seeks to help businesses make and design products and create jobs in the U.S. through a combination of business tax reforms and investments in education, technology and infrastructure. President Barack Obama has signed 10 of the plan's bills into law.

Monday's tour started at Under Armour's Station House, the newest structure on the sprawling campus, which acts as the entry for visitors, offers space for "teams" to meet and houses a cafe. Under Armour's corporate hospitality representatives and Kevin Haley, senior vice president of innovation, led the way.

Hoyer, who was shown a wall-size map in the lobby of the Cheer Building showing Under Armour offices, distribution centers and markets dotting the globe, was told products are designed in the U.S. but mostly manufactured overseas.

"One thing I'm going to ask Kevin [Plank] is how [to] facilitate manufacturing goods here," he said toward the end of the tour.

The tour ended in the Innovation Lab, where the lawmakers were shown an OptiTrack motion capture camera, an environmental chamber, a high speed camera and a materials testing lab.

Sarbanes, whose district includes the Under Armour headquarters, pointed to the company's advances in digital fitness and health, with the recently announced acquisitions of apps MyFitnessPal and Endomondo. He called such moves "a prime example of how American companies are successfully innovating in and adapting to, our 21st-century economy."

"The company's success should be a source of pride not only for Baltimore but also for the country — especially as we look to create more well-paying and technologically advanced jobs in America," Sarbanes said.

During the tour, Ruppersberger compared the Under Armour campus to workplaces in Silicon Valley that have a college campus-like culture.

At Under Armour, he said, employees look like "they want to come to work … and take on Nike."

"Under Armour is not only an American success story, it's a Maryland success story," Ruppersberger said. The company "puts us on the map as a place to do business."

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