New Balance officials are optimistic that their long campaign to get the military to have its athletic shoes made in the U.S. is about to bear fruit.

“We’re on the 2-yard line,” said Matt LeBretton, vice president for public affairs at New Balance, the sneaker maker that operates three plants in Maine and employs 900 workers.

The company got a step closer to its goal Tuesday when the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017. A House-approved version of the act was passed in April.

Both versions of the legislation include a provision requiring the Department of Defense to buy athletic shoes for new recruits from U.S. manufacturers if the shoes comply with Berry Amendment requirements, including that the elements used in making the shoe are U.S. products. A loophole in the amendment has allowed the department to give recruits vouchers to buy the shoes of their choice, but members of Congress, including Maine’s delegation, have pushed for the department to adhere to a 2014 promise that if shoes comply with the amendment it will buy them.

Boston-based New Balance, which has factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway, says it has made a shoe that complies.

LeBretton said company officials will remain vigilant to make sure a provision remains in the final version of the legislation. The House and Senate provisions are identical, he said, so the company isn’t worried as long as the language survives the conference committee process.


A member of Sen. Angus King’s staff said it is difficult to predict when the bicameral conference committee will meet to work out a compromise on the two versions of the defense authorization act, but it could be a few months.

LeBretton said New Balance is sure to add workers, as will its suppliers, if the legislation forces the Pentagon to buy American-made athletic shoes. How many workers will depend on what contracts are worked out, he said.

“Sen. King and I have long urged the Department of Defense to fully comply with the Berry Amendment and provide service men and women with the highest quality athletic shoes manufactured by U.S. companies like New Balance,” Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement Tuesday.

The Senate provision introduced by King last month is identical to both an amendment secured in the House version of the authorization act by Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s 2nd District Republican, and the Buy American Act introduced by King, an independent, and Collins, a Republican, this year.

“This is another win for American jobs and American manufacturers like New Balance, and I will continue to fight tooth and nail until it becomes law,” King said in a news release Tuesday. “With the passage of this provision, we are one step closer to accomplishing a major feat – one that would reward U.S. companies for creating good-paying jobs here in the U.S. and that would finally equip American troops with high-quality American-made athletic footwear.”


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