Right now, we send millions of dollars — and potentially American jobs — overseas when we purchase footwear for the brave men and women serving our country. But Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine H. Fox recently called me to let me know about a shift in Department of Defense policy as it relates to the procurement of athletic footwear for our service members — and the decision is nothing short of a huge win for American manufacturers.
Fox told me that DoD would finally ensure our country’s bravest warriors wore American-made athletic footwear. I’ve been advocating for this change for years, because it just never made sense to me that we would give our service members products that were produced by foreign countries — sending millions of taxpayer dollars overseas at the expense of hardworking Americans here at home.
The policy change relates to the Berry Amendment — which essentially requires DoD to give preference to American-made products when procuring goods for our service members. For a variety of reasons, DoD has not been able to adhere to the Berry Amendment when it comes to athletic footwear — until now.
I started my career working in a paper mill in Maine — the same mill where my father and grandfather worked. Manufacturing is a big part of our state — of our heritage and of our economy. I understand the pride that goes into producing high-quality products that can be shipped out, bringing in important revenue in return. That’s why I’ve pressed so hard on this issue.
This also is important to me because one of the companies capable of producing high-quality, American-made footwear for our service members — New Balance — employs about 900 people in my home state. I know from my own past what a vibrant manufacturing industry means to local communities, and I know the boon those communities receive when companies like New Balance can grow.
It’s been a long road, but persistence has paid off. I spoke with President Barack Obama about the issue multiple times — I even gave both the president and first lady Michelle Obama New Balance sneakers to demonstrate to them the high-quality product American manufacturers were already producing. I’ve toured New Balance factories with the U.S. trade representative so he can see, firsthand, the skill and precision that goes into making high-quality footwear. I’ve sought legislative solutions that seek to ensure our soldiers received American-made athletic footwear, and I’ve reached across the aisle to elevate the broad bipartisan consensus on the issue.
Creating more manufacturing jobs in this country invigorates our communities and our economies, and it sends a powerful message about the strength of the American worker. In fact, data from the National Association of Manufacturers suggests that American workers are more productive than any other manufacturer around the globe. This, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us who understand the dedication and passion that drives the American spirit.
DoD’s commitment to American manufacturing is a powerful endorsement of that American spirit. More than 12 million Americans work in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but we can and should raise that number so that we’re continuing to strengthen our families, communities, and local and state economies by providing good manufacturing jobs. Actions like those taken last week by DoD are a big step in the right direction.
American manufacturers are among the finest and most dedicated workers on the planet. We have a continued obligation to do everything we can to support them. The DoD’s move to ensure soldiers are wearing American-made athletic footwear is a powerful reminder that when American manufacturers win, Americans everywhere win.
Rep. Michael H. Michaud is a Democrat from Maine.