Obama gets custom-made New Balance running shoes
President Barack Obama is well known as a basketball fanatic, but he might feel more like going for a jog after receiving a custom-made pair of New Balance running shows, embroidered with the words “President” and “Obama,” on them Friday night in Maine.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or free sneakers, however. Obama will also get a nudge from a Maine lawmaker to require that the Department of Defense outfit service members with domestically-produced athletic shoes.
Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s Second Congressional District, picked up Obama’s size 12D gray sneakers on Friday from New Balance’s facility in Norridgewock, central Maine. He will present the shoes at an Obama fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art.
Michaud has been working on the defense issue since last year to promote manufacturing growth in his state. Maine is historically a major footwear manufacturer which has seen its production undercut by foreign competition. In all, tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in the footwear industry have moved overseas.
“The workers in Norridgewock produced a pair of high-quality sneakers, and I’m proud to be able to deliver this Maine-made product to the President,” Michaud said. “I’m hopeful he’ll make this policy change so that we can create more jobs in Maine. We also need to be doing whatever we can to encourage domestic procurement government-wide.”
The Berry Amendment, a law on the books for decades, requires the DOD to buy certain categories of products from American companies, including food, clothing (but not footwear, specifically), fabrics, stainless steel, and certain tools.
In crafting “American Shoes for American Service members,” a resolution demanding that footwear be covered by the law, Michaud said that the Department recently stopped providing American-made sneakers for the troops. Instead, service members are issued cash allowances to buy their own athletic shoes. And chances are, those sneakers might hail from Anywhere But Here – China or Vietnam, for example.
Boston-based New Balance is the last major manufacturer still making athletic shoes in the United States, with three factories in Maine and two in Massachusetts. It’s facility in Norridgewock has been operating since 1982, in a building that has been cranking out footwear since 1945.
Obama may have new sneakers, but Republican Mitt Romney has benefited far more from the a top New Balance official. Chairman Jim Davis in 2011 donated $500,000 to Restore Our Future, a political action campaign backing Romney. The company was quick to say that Davis’ contribution was private, from an estimated fortune of $1.8 billion, and unconnected to the company.
Photo: REUTERS/Handout courtesy of Rep. Mike Michaud.