SWIFT ACTION: Fred Nunes, vice president and general manager of Rhode Island Textile Co., has joined the shoemaker in lobbying Congress to amend the procurement law so soldiers’ sneakers must be 100 percent U.S. made.
For decades the military has provided a lifeline for American manufacturers such as Rhode Island Textile Co. in Pawtucket competing against cheaper overseas factories.
Rhode Island Textile makes parachutes, elastic chords, boot laces, webbing and various pieces of clothing for the armed forces and estimates that military orders account for 30 percent of sales.
The military market has remained strong for domestic manufacturers in large part because of the Berry Amendment, a U.S. law that requires most of their equipment come from American producers.
Most of the equipment, but not all.
Some items that soldiers use in the course of their service, such as athletic shoes, fall into a legal gray area and military branches have handled them outside the procurement process used for uniform items.
Sneakers in particular have been provided to soldiers through a voucher system allowing them to buy the footwear through a cash allowance.
Now Massachusetts shoemaker New Balance wants to extend the “Made-In-America” requirement to athletic shoes, as well as boots and fatigues.
New Balance already sells sneakers to the Navy, but believes the entire military athletic-shoe market, which it estimates at around $15 million per year, should be filled by American manufacturers.
Rhode Island Textile is one of New Balance’s suppliers and has joined the shoemaker in lobbying Congress to amend the procurement law so soldiers’ sneakers must be 100 percent American-made, similar to boots and fatigues.
“There is not enough manufacturing in this state and we need some jobs for people so we can have a middle class,” said Fred Nunes, vice president and general manager of Rhode Island Textile. “We could add another 20 or 30 jobs here in Rhode Island.”