PDT Staff Writer
Bryan Davis, Vice President of Sole Choice, a shoelace manufacturer in Portsmouth, says last week’s passage by the U.S. House of Representatives passage of H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, could, if passed, mean an increase in business and possibly the creation of more jobs at that plant.
U.S. Representative Brad Wenstrup (OH2) said on Saturday, that he had supported and voted for the measure which deals with funding the nation’s military. That bill passed the House on Friday. And in that bill was an amendment, sponsored by Niki Tsongas (MA-3), that said the athletic footwear worn by recruits in military training should be made in the United States.
“It would fall under the Berry amendment which dictates that almost everything that our fighting forces use had to be made in the USA,” Davis said. “The combat boots they wear, made in the USA, built in several factories all across the United States. The clothing, guns, whatever it may be, the Berry amendment states - made in the USA.”
For some reason, Davis said, running shoes were never included in the amendment. So Jim Davis, owner of New Balance Shoe Company, which makes roughly 80 percent of their shoes in the U.S., lobbied members of Congress on that issue.
So, what does all of that have to do with Portsmouth?
“We supply the majority of the laces for the shoes that are produced domestically by New Balance,” Davis said. “We’re on the cutting edge of all of their development. We’ve already developed laces for shoes to be used in recruit training. So this is big in the fact that we are talking that will increase their (New Balance) capacity by 250,000 pairs a year. And that equates to more business for us, and potentially jobs for us. This is big.”
Davis said he started lobbying support for the bill.
“It came to my attention through Senator (Sherrod) Brown’s office (D-OH), that this Berry amendment issue was an issue and they (Congress) were looking into it,” Davis said. “I knew how Senator Brown felt, so I started lobbying Senator (Rob) Portman (R-OH), and their (Portman) office was telling me that the Senator in Washington was discussing things with the Pentagon, and they were asking questions.”
On April 19, a letter, signed by several members of the Senate, was sent to President Barack Obama which read in part - “We share your goal of encouraging manufacturers to create jobs here in America. We hope you will add domestic footwear manufacturers to this list of companies that are creating new American manufacturing jobs and would agree with us that they should not face unnecessary barriers in doing so.”
On May 24, a letter was sent by Portman to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, which read in part - “I am supportive of encouraging federal agencies to look within the United States for solutions to our nation’s needs, while ensuring the readiness of our men and women in uniform.”
The amendment says the only way the country could buy shoes outside the U.S. is if there was a size not provided by a U.S. manufacturer. It also calls for two U.S. manufacturers chosen. Davis said that is covered by New Balance and Converse, which produces shoes in Puerto Rico, which still counts as made in the U.S.A.
In the meantime, Davis said he had been working with Wenstrup’s office. Wenstrup, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in addition to being a podiatrist, turned out to be an important part of the proposal.
“The American people can be confident that our military men, women, and families will have the resources necessary to continue their mission in the defense of our nation,” Wenstrup said in announcing he had voted for the measure.
Davis also received support from U.S. Representative Bill Johnson (OH-6).
Davis said the next step is for the measure to go before the U.S. Senate.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.