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July 7, 2013

Amendment gives boost to local footwear manufacturing

A proposal in Congress to require athletic shoes bought by new members of the armed services be totally made domestically could add 200 or more jobs locally.

The proposal, by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, and Congressman Mike Michaud, D-Maine, would make athletic footwear used for basic training paid for with allowances of public funds to new recruits follow the same requirement as most other military clothing and cloth-based equipment.

New Balance, the Boston-based athletic shoe and clothing manufacturer and its largest plant in Lawrence, stands to benefit as one of two American footwear companies that can offer products that comply with military regulations and the domestic-origin requirement.

“It is time for the Department of Defense to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and buy them from American manufacturers,” Tsongas said. “DoD has spent approximately $180 million on the athletic footwear cash allowance program to date, which is money that could have gone to American jobs and manufacturing.”

Since 2002, the Pentagon has given new recruits a cash allowance to buy athletic shoes for basic training, which means the purchase does not have to follow a 1941 rule requiring uniforms be 100-percent American made in every part of the supply chain as much as possible. Tsongas and Michaud’s proposal would bring the cash allowance under that requirement.

Matt LeBretton, director of public affairs for New Balance, said the company already manufactures athletic clothing for different branches of the military, and those products currently must comply with the 100-percent-American-made rule. They have designed footwear that would be compliant, and would not be commercially available.

“It’s a matter of pride for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride in being a domestic manufacturer for the armed services.”

New Balance has two factories in Massachusetts – Brighton and Lawrence – and three in Maine where it manufactures its athletic wear. LeBretton said Lawrence is the biggest facility and includes testing and research and development. Requiring recruits to use their military allowance on 100-percent-American-manufactured footwear would give a boost to New Balance and Wolverine World Wide, the other qualifying manufacturer.

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