Economic Development, Government, and Manufacturing

Law would require U.S.-made shoes for military

It could lead to Wolverine Worldwide making athletic shoes at its Big Rapids plant.

October 4, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Wolverine Worldwide, which does not manufacture any athletic shoes in the United States at this time, has come out in support of proposed federal legislation that would require the Department of Defense to buy only American-made athletic shoes.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee has proposed legislation directing the Department of Defense to comply with existing law by procuring American-made athletic shoes for military personnel. Wolverine said the Senate Armed Services Committee has passed similar legislation that, if signed into law, will have an immediate positive impact on domestic manufacturers of footwear and the U.S. supply chain for American-made shoes.

Two senators from Maine, the only state that includes manufacturing of athletic shoes, introduced Senate Bill 1051. It would require the military to either buy U.S.-made athletic shoes directly, or restrict vouchers issued to military personnel to only be used for U.S.-made athletic shoes.

According to Navy Times, about $15 million is spent each year on military vouchers for athletic shoes.

The Berry Act, passed in 1941, requires that all uniforms and footwear bought by the Department of Defense for the military must be American-made, but almost none of the world production of athletic shoes takes place in the United States.

Maine, which had a thriving shoe manufacturing industry into the 1980s, is home to production facilities of New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., which is based in Boston. New Balance is the only U.S. shoe manufacturer still making athletic shoes in America; most of the world production has been in Asia for decades.

In 2002, due to the lack of U.S.-made athletic shoes, the government decided to issue vouchers for foreign-made athletic shoes needed by military recruits, an exception to the Berry Act.

“I commend the Armed Services Committees for this thoughtful legislation that will have a direct, positive impact on our manufacturing operations in Michigan,” said Blake Krueger, Wolverine Worldwide CEO.

“Our company has been manufacturing in the United States for more than 130 years — building state-of-the-art footwear in the U.S. is a part of our heritage. We know that our world-class domestic manufacturing operations are capable of producing advanced athletic footwear that will support the training needs for all service branches. Our Saucony, Merrell and Bates brands will be at the forefront of this effort and we will continue to invest in our domestic operations to enhance the ability to deliver innovative products to our customers.”

Saucony and Merrell athletic shoes, however, are not manufactured in America.

Bates offers boots and dress shoes for the U.S. military and police departments, and they are produced by Wolverine in Big Rapids.

David Costello, a spokesperson for Wolverine, said there are 700 people working in the Bates plant in Big Rapids, and he noted the plant has “tremendous technical capability.”

Costello said no athletic shoes are currently being made at the Big Rapids plant, “but that is where we would do so.”

In a 2008 interview, Krueger said that in 1980, half of all the shoes bought in the United States were made here. By 2008, however, less than 1 percent were being made in this country. Southern China accounts for the largest share of global shoe production.

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