Government, Law, and Manufacturing

Big Rapids manufacturing plant to produce Saucony brand

WWW contract for military athletic footwear would help sustain the local workforce.

May 13, 2016
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This is the concept for a Saucony brand athletic shoe that would be provided to the U.S. military by Wolverine Worldwide under Berry Amendment legislation. Courtesy Wolverine Worldwide

Wolverine Worldwide plans to produce Saucony brand athletic shoes for the U.S. military at its Big Rapids plant.

David Costello, a spokesperson for Wolverine Worldwide brand Bates Footwear, said the Big Rapids plant is preparing to produce athletic shoes for the military following recently approved legislation from the House Armed Services Committee directing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to provide Berry Amendment compliant athletic footwear to service members upon their entry into the armed forces.

The Berry Amendment requires the U.S. military to purchase products that are considered “essential goods,” such as uniforms and other clothing, parachutes and footwear, from American manufacturers. Despite this requirement, Costello said more than a decade ago the Department of Defense began supplying new recruits with athletic shoe vouchers that did not require them to purchase American-made shoes.

“It’s a law that was passed in 1941,” Costello said. “Its purpose is to maintain an industrial base in America that has that capability and not having to rely on foreign companies for items like that.”

He said the legislation would bring the DOD back into compliance with the Berry Amendment regarding athletic shoes.

Only a handful of athletic shoe brands are produced in the United States, and Saucony, which is based in Lexington, Massachusetts, is one of them.

“Saucony is another brand of Wolverine Worldwide, and it’s known for its advanced athletic footwear,” Costello said.

He said the goal is to make Saucony the athletic shoe of the U.S. military, and Wolverine has already set up a production line at the Big Rapids plant to be able to meet the new contract it expects to land.

“We are working diligently to have this legislation end up in the final defense bill later this year,” Costello said. “In the meantime, we have a meeting next week with Department of Defense to talk about this process.

“We know the Department of Defense spends more than $10 million per year on athletic shoes. We expect to win our fair share of that, and it would be a nice addition to the work we already do in Big Rapids.”

Bates Footwear already produces several types of shoes for the U.S. military at its Big Rapids facility, which employs more than 600 people.

“We produce a broad spectrum of technical footwear there, ranging from a high-gloss dress shoe to a full-on mountain combat boot,” Costello said.

In the last six months, Bates Footwear has announced two new military contracts. In December 2015, the company said it had won a $27 million contract to produce Temperate Weather Combat Boots for U.S. Allied Forces, and in March, it won a five-year, $30.5-million contract to make Temperate Weather Boots for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Costello said an athletic shoe contract would help the facility sustain its current workforce, as well as support a number of the company’s suppliers, many of which are located in Michigan.

“Sometimes with combat footwear, you have a surge in demand and then a fallow period where you don’t have as many orders,” Costello said. “But when the military recruits, there is a set amount that comes through in every service branch every year, so you have a more regular flow of orders. We see that helping to balance the workforce in Big Rapids.”

He added, “We have a compelling amount of resources around the United States making the fabrics and materials that end up in footwear, so something like new athletic shoes for the military helps support not only our Big Rapids plant but those companies around Michigan and the United States.”

He said in Michigan alone there are at least 20 companies that would benefit if Bates Footwear receives the military contract.

“We have been very concerned as a corporation about the state of affairs with the supply base, especially below the prime contractors,” he said. “You have the supply chain, all the people who make the parts and pieces that go into footwear, the leathers, fabrics, soles, etc. There are less and less of them around.

“We saw this athletic footwear initiative as a way to provide a whole other category of footwear that would be supplied by American companies and help not only sustain our plant in Michigan but all the people downstream from us who provide the different components, parts and pieces.”

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