SKOWHEGAN – Town officials in Skowhegan and Norridgewock are drafting a resolution to members of Congress opposing a pending trade agreement with Vietnam and supporting local shoemaker New Balance.

Skowhegan Town Manager John Doucette Jr. and Michelle Flewelling, his counterpart in Norridgewock, are expected to deliver copies of the final draft to their boards of selectmen this month. Somerset County commissioners also are scheduled to take up the idea of a formal resolution to Maine’s congressional delegation during their meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the county courthouse.

New Balance, the last major American athletic shoe manufacturer that still makes its footwear in the United States, employs about 800 people in Norridgewock, Skowhegan and the town of Norway.

The Obama administration is proposing the free-trade agreement, which would eliminate a tariff on imported shoes, making them cheaper in the United States. New Balance officials worry they might not be able to compete in the domestic shoe market if Vietnam is allowed to flood the market with more inexpensive athletic footwear.

“We are hoping to work with the town of Norridgewock and possibly the town of Norway, where they have another plant,” said Joy Mase, chairwoman of the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen. “We want to kind of combine forces and just state that these are vital jobs to our community. This is an American-made company that we can not afford to see hindered by going abroad.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is an Asia-Pacific regional trade pact involving the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, visited the Norridgewock factory last month to tell workers she is fighting to preserve their jobs.

“The Vietnam agreement is not acceptable,” she said. “We’ll fight it every step of the way.”

The company has about 600 workers in Somerset County, making it the county’s second-largest employer, and provides about $158,500 in real estate and property taxes to Skowhegan and Norridgewock.

Mase said New Balance brings not only jobs and a tax base to the area but supports community programs such as the Move More Kids project.

“From their manpower right through to their money, they do it all,” she said.

Newell Graf, vice chairman of the Skowhegan board, said members feel strongly about sending the resolution to Congress.

“I think it’s very important,” Graf said. “Whatever we do, we want to make sure we keep everything on an even footing for New Balance. Norridgewock and Skowhegan stand to lose 600 jobs; that would be devastating if that were to happen.”

Graf said the towns hope to get Gov. Paul LePage on board with the resolution. They also hope to get support from state Rep. Jeffrey McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and state Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan.

Norridgewock’s Flewelling said she also would like to attract the support of area communities where New Balance employees live and shop.

“We want them to basically support the company and we hope that the U.S. Congress and the Legislature will do everything in their power to help ensure that facility doesn’t close,” she said.

“Big-picture-wise, it’s saving people money on the purchase of shoes, but small-picture-wise, it does affect all of the households in this region. Our local economy cannot afford to lose another factory. … It’s not just their property taxes we’re worried about; it’s everybody’s property taxes we’re worried about.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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