NORRIDGEWOCK – Raye Wentworth manages one of the last athletic shoe manufacturing plants in the country.

She’s in charge of the New Balance Norridgewock factory, where workers can turn out 7,700 pairs of shoes daily.

And though she hasn’t always worked in production, she said a 2004 job change set her on a path that fits her skills.

“Manufacturing is in my blood. You can feel it,” said Wentworth during a recent tour of the fast-moving, high-tech production facility in Norridgewock.

Though Wentworth joined New Balance in 1983, her connections to the shoe industry run deeper.

Both of Wentworth’s parents worked for a time at Norrwock Shoe. She remembers that her mother was a tack puller.

Wentworth grew up in Canaan and attended Skowhegan High School. She later graduated from Thomas College in Waterville with a degree in business.

She joined New Balance as an accounting clerk, and later became a senior accountant in Maine. (New Balance operates three plants in the state and two in Massachusetts.)

But it wasn’t until Wentworth turned 40 that she decided to shake up her career by moving from accounting to manufacturing.

She said she wanted to work closer with employees, particularly production line staff.

“I wanted a position where I could make a difference and help them grow,” she said.

Wentworth joined the Norridgewock work force and became a production manager in charge of assembly. In 2004 she was named manager of the entire plant, which employs some 360 staffers.

Her job is to monitor the production line, help solve problems and ensure employees follow the production process exactly.

She’s managed the plant during a period of substantial transformation. In 2004, Norridgewock began overhauling its manufacturing process to be more efficient, and instituted a new system for tracking inventory and production.

Wentworth lives in Skowhegan and has been married for 25 years.

She has two children: Twenty-one-year-old Dana, who is studying business at Thomas College, and Dylan, 24, who graduated from Maine Maritime Academy and works as an engineer on a tugboat in Louisiana.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:

[email protected]