Military recruits getting Made-in-the-USA athletic trainers
NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine (AP) - Thanks to congressional intervention, military recruits are going be outfitted in Made-in-the-USA goods right down to their sneakers used for physical fitness training.
New Balance in New England, along with two companies based in Texas and Missouri, is producing Made-in-the-USA running shoes for military recruits - bolstering domestic production at a time when nearly all footwear purchased in the U.S. is made overseas.
The contract reflects only a sliver of the 3 million New Balance sneakers produced each year in the U.S. - and even more worldwide.
But it's a big victory for workers at a plant in a quiet town of 3,500 people bisected by the Kennebec River, who say they are proud to be helping the military.
Members of the congressional delegations in Maine and Massachusetts pressed for years for athletic footwear to be made subject to the Berry Amendment, which requires the Defense Department to give preference to home-grown products for military contracts. Most military gear, including helmets, boots, and fatigues, have been compliant with the amendment for years.
Some in Congress, concerned about limiting choices for recruits, didn't see the need to disrupt the status quo of the old policy of providing vouchers and letting them purchase sneakers of their choosing.
Production of the initial round of 92,000 sneakers is underway at the largest of three New Balance's factories in Maine. The order could be expanded to 248,000.
The other two companies are making athletic trainers for the first time. Missouri-based defense contractor Propper International has a contract for up to 348,000 units, which are being produced in Puerto Rico. San Antonio Shoe won a contract for up to 398,000 units that are being made in Texas.
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