New Balance: Patience will pay off for local textile company

New Balance: Patience will pay off for local textile company

Fred Nunes, of Rhode Island Textiles in Pawtucket, explained last year how he thought closing a federal loophole would help his business. Nunes says it hasn't helped yet, but a representative for New Balance says it will just take a little time. (Valley Breeze photo by David Wuerth)

PAWTUCKET - Local manufacturers aren't seeing the benefits of new rules requiring military personnel to buy shoes that are made in America, say officials from New Balance Athletic Shoe, but they will soon.

Matt LeBretton, vice president of public affairs for the company, told The Breeze that companies like Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Textile Company should start seeing the impact of the changes by early 2015.

New Balance is applauding Department of Defense officials for their decision in April to close a loophole by requiring military personnel to get American-made footwear whenever possible, "a crucial step" toward outfitting recruits in 100 percent USA-made footwear, according to a news release.

"We are excited about the potential path forward for New Balance with the Department of Defense policy change that requires American-made athletic shoes (be) available for our country's soldiers," said LeBretton in a statement.

Fred Nunes, vice president and general manager for the Rhode Island Textile Company, told The Breeze last September that company officials were expecting big things from a possible change in the federal law, including a substantial jump in revenue and a possible 25-30 new jobs.

But Nunes now says the company has been disappointed by a lack of new activity since the loophole was closed.

"It hasn't made any difference whatsoever in my life," he said. "We haven't seen anything."

Nunes attributed the lack of activity on military spending currently being "strangled" on the federal level.

But LeBretton said Nunes and others need only be patient to realize the benefits of the changes made by the Department of Defense. He said the decision will create more American jobs at manufacturers and suppliers across New England, including Rhode Island Textile Company, which makes shoelaces for New Balance.

The Department of Defense has handled this situation differently than most cases, said LeBretton. Instead of issuing a request for proposals and awarding a contract, officials have created "more of a retail situation." Before shoes can be made and sold in large quantities, they must be tested to make sure they're compliant. Then they can be manufactured and stockpiled for when they're ordered by soldiers, he said. It's a "laborious and time-intensive process" that will take months, he said.

"If anybody's disappointed at the pace, we're going to be making these shoes," he said.

Representatives from New Balance and others have been working on this issue for so long that they'll do anything to ensure that they're successful and part of the military's shoe program, said LeBretton.

The assumption was that the loophole would be closed through a legislative fix, but it ended up being done administratively, said LeBretton. This has never been about "making the most money," he said, but about the "pride we take" in shoring up U.S. industry and keeping jobs at companies like Rhode Island Textiles.

Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox outlined Department of Defense plans to comply with the Berry Amendment. Enacted in 1941, the amendment requires that U.S. soldiers train and operate in U.S.-made materials whenever possible, including footwear.

"With the potential for Berry Amendment-compliant athletic shoes to enter the market, the Department of Defense has an interest in having our recruits purchase domestically manufactured athletic shoes to the maximum extent practicable in order to abide by the spirit of the Berry Amendment," she said in letters to New England lawmakers.

As American-made shoes enter the market, service members will be required to use one-time cash allowances, provided by the Department of Defense, to purchase athletic footwear that is Berry Amendment-compliant, provided one or more Berry Amendment-compliant shoe models correspond to a shoe type category made available to male and female recruits, according to the Department of Defense.

The action closes a long-standing loophole where military personnel would receive cash allowances to purchase the footwear of their choice, regardless of where it was manufactured.

New Balance, which owns and operates five footwear factories in New England, two in Massachusetts and three in Maine, is the maker of the 950v2, an athletic shoe that is 100 percent Made in the USA, meeting all of the federal requirements for this military program.