NORWAY — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, toured the New Balance factory on Cottage Street on Wednesday as part of her efforts to convince the Department of Defense to procure domestically manufactured footwear for incoming service members.
After her visit, Collins said she sent a letter to the Department of Defense, inviting Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to visit one of the New Balance factories in Maine. Athletic footwear for service members is purchased with federal funds.
"After visiting this facility, I am confident you will have an appreciation for the dedication of this U.S. work force and will develop confidence in the quality and cost-effectiveness of athletic shoes that are made in America," she wrote in the Feb. 20 letter.
In the letter, Collins said the Army, Air Force and Navy issue cash vouchers that allows the service members to purchase athletic footwear either domestically or through a foreign manufacturer.
She said the military services' cash allowances for athletic shoes are valued at about $15 million annually, 100 times the minimum acquisition threshold of $150,000, which is the procurement amount above which goods must comply under the Berry Amendment. Collins noted that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has awarded more than $36 million since October 2012 to domestic companies for other footwear such as combat boots.
"If the Department of Defense would align its athletic footwear procurement policies to match the policies already in place for combat boots, service shoes, and other uniform items, it would have the dual benefit of also contributing to the explicit objectives set forth in the president's agenda for his second term,” she said. In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said he intends to make America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing, she said.
Collins said in August that the Department of Defense stated no U.S. company could currently provide the appropriate footwear without an exception to the Berry Amendment due to footwear components not being available in the domestic market.
Collins said New Balance recently changed its product manufacturing by adding a domestically produced midsole to remedy this previously identified shortfall.
The senator has invited Kendall to visit one of the New Balance factories in Maine to see the technology development with her.
New Balance is the last athletic shoemaker in the U.S. Of the company's 1,400 U.S. workers, almost 900 are in Maine scattered among plants in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan.