SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud used President Barack Obama’s visit to the state on Friday to try to give a boost to what’s left of its shoe industry, urging the commander-in-chief to insist that the Department of Defense provide U.S.-made sneakers to new recruits.Michaud, D-Maine, had a special pair of New Balance sneakers made for the president, underscoring the company’s continued production in Maine, where it employs 900 workers.”The Department of Defense is circumventing the Berry Amendment that requires the military to be attired head to toe in American-made clothing,” Michaud said Friday, adding that U.S.-made sneakers would be consistent with Obama’s goal of bolstering domestic manufacturing.
“Let’s take the money that we’re no longer spending on the war,” he said. “Let’s use half of it to pay down our national debt and the other half to do some nation-building here at home.”
The back-to-back events featured some of the best of Maine, with lobster corndogs, lobster rolls, oysters, smoked salmon and beef, all produced in the state.
The sneakers, with “President Obama” sewn on the heels, also were made in Maine by New Balance, part of a dwindling number of shoe brands that carry the “Made in the USA” label.
Nationwide, the number of shoe-manufacturing jobs has dropped from more than 200,000 in the 1970s to about 12,500, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In Maine, well-known Maine brands such as G.H. Bass, Cole Haan, Sebago and Dexter have shuttered factories and moved production out of the country.
New Balance, which has three factories in Maine and two in Massachusetts, plus others overseas, is the last major athletic shoe manufacturer in the U.S., company spokesman Matt LeBretton said.
The Department of Defense circumvents the Berry Amendment by giving new recruits allowances so they can buy their own shoes for athletic training, Michaud said. The shoes used for physical training should be put out to bid just like military boots, he said.
The Obama administration declined to comment. But Obama did mention manufacturing in his speech, saying he wants the next generation of manufacturing “to take place right here in Maine.”
New Balance contends that there are several other U.S. companies that would be interested if the Department of Defense chose to put the athletic shoes out to bid.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said LeBretton, the company spokesman. “We’re asking the Defense Department to follow the law. We’re not asking for special treatment or an earmark for our company. We’re just asking them to follow the law on the books.”