Eric Boynton, left, and Richard Park prepare uppers to be adhered to soles in 2016 at the New Balance plant in Skowhegan. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

A contract to provide New Balance athletic shoes for military personnel entering basic training is expected to help 1,000 Maine workers stay busy.

The $17.3 million Department of Defense contract was announced Thursday by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. They had fought for years to have footwear included under a government requirement that all military personnel have American-made equipment and uniforms.

“The Pentagon is now rightly prioritizing American workers and supporting American jobs to equip U.S. troops,” Collins, King and Poliquin said in a joint statement.

Boston-based New Balance operates manufacturing plants in Norway, Skowhegan and Norridgewock that employ roughly 1,000 workers.

“This is a great win for the preservation and growth of American manufacturing jobs,” Rob DeMartini, president and CEO at New Balance, said in a statement to the Press Herald. “This Department of Defense contract confirms New Balance’s long-standing commitment to making shoes in this country and our ability to deliver high-quality American-made athletic footwear for our nation’s servicemen and women. We are proud of our thousands of domestic manufacturing associates in Maine and Massachusetts who helped us achieve this goal and thank our elected officials in both states who fought to ensure we had the opportunity to put Made in USA footwear on our troops.”

Dennis Lajoie, town manager in Norway, said he knew the contract was in the works earlier this year and was glad to hear it had been approved.

“It’s great news for the town,” he said.

BERRY AMENDMENT

The Berry Amendment, passed in 1941, requires the U.S. military to provide its personnel with American-made equipment and uniforms to the greatest extent possible. Despite this long-standing law, and despite the fact that it issues similar Berry-compliant items such as combat boots and service uniforms, the entire Department of Defense has not previously issued new recruits athletic footwear that is compliant with the Berry Amendment.

Brenda Barney stitches a shoe’s foxing, the area where the upper and sole meet, at the New Balance plant in Skowhegan. The company has produced an athletic shoe that meets military requirements. Staff file photo by Ben McCanna

Members of the Maine delegation fought for the inclusion of a provision in the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that required the Department of Defense to consider athletic footwear subject to the Berry Amendment by providing new recruits with American-made athletic shoes upon arrival at basic training. A loophole in the amendment has allowed the department to give recruits vouchers of about $80 to buy the shoes of their choice, but members of Congress have been pushing for the department to adhere to a 2014 promise that if shoes comply with the amendment, it will buy them.

The company has produced an athletic shoe that complies with military requirements.

New Balance secured one of three contracts awarded by the Department of Defense for American-made athletic footwear under the provision. The contract, awarded by the Defense Logistics Agency, is for 18 months, with an additional 18-month option contract clause.

The plants in Norridgewock and Skowhegan produced about 1.6 million pairs of shoes in 2016.

ADDING WORKERS

In a June 2016 interview, Matt LeBretton, vice president for public affairs at New Balance, said the company would surely add workers, as would its suppliers, if the legislation forced the Pentagon to buy American-made athletic shoes. How many workers would depend on what contracts were worked out, he said at the time.

Earlier that year, the company announced its opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would have opened new Asian and Pacific Rim markets for American-made goods. However, the agreement also could have phased out some tariffs on goods including athletic footwear, making imported foreign-made shoes cheaper to buy than those made in the U.S., and jeopardizing New Balance factory jobs in New England.

The company employs about 3,000 people in total.

President Trump declined to endorse the TPP when he first took office, and the measure has not been revived.