Sunday, May 19, 2013
NORRIDGEWOCK -- Employees at the last remaining athletic shoe manufacturer in the United States are used to celebrities buying their sneakers.
TOUR: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, speaks with New Balance employee Tiffany Whitney, right, on a tour of the factory in Norridgewock on Friday. Michaud toured the plant and picked up a pair of size 12D running shoes made at the plant for President Barack Obama. Beside Michaud is plant manager Raye Wentworth.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
New Balance workers have cut and stitched material to grace the feet of pop singer Lady Gaga, comedian Ellen Degeneres and Oprah Winfrey. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got 12 pairs for his family during the Super Bowl.
Now, another well-known figure will tie up the laces of a size 12D pair of gray New Balance running sneakers. If President Barack Obama could run anywhere inconspicuously, the blue stitching on the heel of the sneakers declaring his name would give him away.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-2nd District, planned to present the sneakers to the president Friday evening at a fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art. They are made with natural pig skin, mesh and labels manufactured in the U.S.
At a tour of the shoe factory in Norridgewock on Friday morning, Michaud said when he gives the sneakers to Obama he will urge him to require the military to buy American-made athletic footwear.
"I'll hand him the shoes and bring it to his attention," he said.
Michaud has introduced the American Shoes for American Servicemembers Act to clarify that the so-called Berry Amendment applies to footwear.
The law already requires that the military buy food, clothing, fabrics, specialty metal and stainless steel that is produced in the U.S. While the law does not specifically mention shoes, footwear should fall under the category of clothing, Michaud said.
New Balance employee Amber Meunier, of Madison, was sewing parts of a sneaker heel on Friday and was one of the 32 people it took to make Obama's shoes.
It was exciting to make the sneakers, she said, but at the same time they weren't much different from the many shoes she helps produce every day.
She said she knows the value of purchasing products made in the U.S., as her job depends on it.
"I personally try to buy local, American-made," she said. "I would hope he would do the same."
Though some policymakers believe the Berry Amendment contradicts free trade policies and say competition is the best way to improve product quality, others say domestic businesses need the protection.
"Buy American-made" is a common theme at New Balance, as the company aims to get as many parts as possible domestically, Plant Manager Raye Wentworth said.
During a morning break, team leader James Meyers, of Readfield, said he was excited about the company getting the spotlight.
"It's nice to have a politician come observe domestic manufacturing and the jobs we're creating here," he said.
New Balance recently hired about 40 new workers, bringing the total number of employees in the Norridgewock plant to 380. It has more than 800 employees at its Maine plants and about 1,000 total.
Past shelves of colored shoe material with names like espresso, mountain green, kool gray and chambray, team leader Stephanie Hallee, of Waterville, was overseeing the embroidery of shoe parts. She also helped make Obama's shoes.
"We all made sure we did a perfect job, not that we don't do that already," she said. If she could say anything to Obama, she said, "I'd say, 'Thank you for wearing our shoes that we proudly make in the USA.'"
Farther down in the room, employee Lisa Dubay, of Oakland, added she would tell Obama she enjoys her job and that she hopes he likes the sneakers. Maybe he'll even wear them on TV.
Erin Rhoda -- 612-2368