Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Berry-compliant company gets a win for its New England workforce.

Good news for people who like their sneakers made in New England: New Balance just scored a Department of Defense (DOD) contract that will put its sneakers on the feet of military recruits. The deal guarantees about $17 million worth of business for the company that employs roughly 1,000 workers at shoe factories in Maine and Massachusetts

It has been a long time coming. The company had spent years lobbying DOD to close a loophole in the Berry amendment, a 1941 rule requiring clothing for American soldiers to be made domestically, that exempted footwear purchasing.

DOD’s had argued there just weren’t enough shoes made in America for the rule to be reasonably applied. But New Balance, one of the last athletic shoemaker of any size still manufacturing in the United States, made significant equipment purchases in order to make even more of its shoes’ content American-made, and the Obama administration relented in 2014 and the loophole was closed.

And so we had a Berry-compliant athletic shoe for military recruits. Story's over, right?

Wrong! Then came drama!

DOD in 2016 still hadn’t awarded New Balance (or Wolverine Worldwide, maker of Saucony shoes) to a Berry-compliant manufacturer. It claimed those options weren’t holding up to its stringent military durability tests (we’re talking about sneakers here). And then New Balance claimed DOD had dangled a competitive shot at a military contract – which the company had spent years tooling up to become Berry-compliant for – if it kept its criticism of a trade deal quiet. This was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), of which New Balance was wary because it planned to lower tariffs on shoes imported from Vietnam.

And then when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the company caught heat because it made a not-at-all-clear statement that seemed to endorse his victory. The New York Times reported:

The comments were made in the context of Mr. Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that New Balance says will hurt its production of shoes in the United States while rewarding competitors that make more of their products overseas.

People overreacted and burned their shoes. Internet racists endorsed New Balance. (Try going barefoot, jerks.)

But then, before he left office, President Obama signed a military budget that included language championed by the Maine congressional delegation to require American-made sneakers for recruits. And here we are, in March 2018, and the DOD under President Trump is picking up that thread. And putting New Balance sneakers on our soldiers’ feet.

These shoes are awesome. Good for New Balance, and good for New England shoemakers.