Collins: Feds, US shoe manufactuers take step toward meeting directive for American-made military footwear
As originally appearing in The Bangor Daily News

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday she expects a meeting in early September between Department of Defense officials and American shoe manufacturers will help sort out details of the Pentagon’s decision to source footwear for U.S. military personnel from domestic manufacturers.

That would be good news for New Balance, which has three manufacturing facilities in Maine.

Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for the senator’s office, said in an email the department intends to set the meeting for manufacturers interested in providing footwear to service members. The meeting would detail the specifications and requirements for wear testing the athletic shoes that would be approved for sale to the military.

The Pentagon announced in April it would begin requiring military service members to purchase American-made shoes, but the rule changes did not happen immediately.

“We’re moving forward on this,” Collins said during a wide-ranging talk Thursday with business owners, hosted by the New England Council.

Matt LeBretton, spokesman for New Balance, told the Boston Business Journal in April he expects the company will start selling shoes that comply with the Berry Amendment, which directs U.S. military branches to use domestically made footwear, by 2015.

Depending on how the Defense Department administers the program, LeBretton told the paper he estimates it could mean up to 200 new jobs by adding New Balance shoes to the mix of shoes service members can buy.

Those discussions are one spot of progress Collins, a Republican running this year for a fourth term in the Senate, highlighted in a short talk and question-and-answer session with about 80 business leaders in the penthouse offices at law firm Preti Flaherty.

Collins said an “overarching” issue in Washington remains partisan gridlock and that will likely hold up changes to major legislation, including the Affordable Care Act, until at least November.

“It’s hard in this excessively partisan environment, particularly before an election,” Collins said.

Speaking to a business audience, Collins’ message seemed particularly well-tuned. The National Small Business Association’s 2014 “ Politics of Small Business Survey” found more than 80 percent of business owners registered as either Democrats or Republicans agreed the political process has become more partisan in the past 10 years.

Collins kept her comments brief to allow time for questions Thursday, limiting her prepared remarks to details of compromise from inside the “common-sense coalition” that includes senators on both sides of the aisle, as well as independent Sen. Angus King. She touted the group’s role in crafting the plan that party leaders eventually embraced to put an end to the 16-day federal shutdown in October. That group continues to meet, she said.

“My hope is that we can continue to make a difference as we did in ending the shutdown,” Collins said.

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