SKOWHEGAN — With presidential action expected soon, the majority of Maine’s congressional delegation came to the New Balance shoe factory in Skowhegan Wednesday to promote legislation that would require athletic footwear for military personnel be made in the United States.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, were all on hand to promote their “Made-in-USA” footwear provision included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign.

Poliquin, in particular, offered more fiery remarks than those of the senators, blasting the federal government for delaying such a provision.

The provision will require the U.S. Department of Defense to provide service members athletic shoes manufactured in the United States. This effectively requires the Department of Defense to follow the Berry Amendment, which was passed in 1941 and requires the department to give preference to a number of domestically produced products to the greatest extent possible. The department already applies the Berry Amendment to military combat boots and uniforms.

At the Skowhegan shoe factory Wednesday, Poliquin called out what he saw as “shameful” action by the federal government in not acting sooner on this. He said New Balance, which employs 900 workers in Maine, could have made more money by manufacturing its shoes overseas, but chose not to, and he commended New Balance’s commitment to its workers in the state.

“It’s about time our government invests in our workers,” Poliquin said.

Poliquin, saying the federal government was too big, listed off the battles he had with the Pentagon, special interests and bureaucrats just to get to this point. He said he will be meeting with officials from the White House and Pentagon to make sure they knew he was “watching like a hawk” to make sure this new law is implemented. He said the new administration in Washington, D.C., understands “the importance of investing in our workers, and so do I.”

As the delegation toured the factory, one of the factory workers, Bobbie-Jo Price, said she was excited about the implications of the provision, because it “means the government wants to keep jobs in the United States.”

“It makes me proud to be able to build them,” said Price, who began working at the factory 25 years ago.

Collins, who said the defense department refused to apply the Berry Amendment to athletic footwear “for reasons unknown,” said now they could celebrate that the law was being followed. She also said the Maine congressional delegation worked hard for this moment. The footwear provision is similar to the “Buy American Act” King and Collins introduced in the Senate and the “Stepping Up For American Workers and Troops Act” Poliquin introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year. Poliquin pushed for inclusion of the provision in legislation on the House floor and King, a member of Senate Armed Services Committee, pushed for its inclusion in the Senate version.

“We’ve worked for years to make sure the Department of Defense followed the law,” Collins said.

New Balance also has factories in Norridgewock and Norway.

King called the provision “a long time coming” and said something like this “shouldn’t have taken so long.”

But he said the delegation worked hard to ensure the provision happened and that the number of shoes manufactured would be meaningful to Maine.

Brendan Melly, the director of manufacturing at New Balance, estimated that this would allow the company to make up to an additional 250,000 shoes a year if it gets this business. He said it was true the company could make more profits by manufacturing shoes in different countries, but they stayed in Maine to “do what’s right.”

“To have a clear-cut victory like this on behalf of the people of Maine is about as good as it gets,” King said.

Collins commended New Balance’s commitment to American jobs, saying she was proud to see the company continue to do so when so many other athletic footwear makers did outsource elsewhere.

She also said it was an example of teamwork within Congress, something that she said should happen more often.

“This is a great example of how hard we work together when Maine jobs are at stake,” Collins said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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