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A federal rule change threatens jobs at Michigan shoe factory

Staff Sgt Brandon Aird 173rd ABCT PAO - Flickr
Creative Commons

Hundreds of employees at Bates Footwear in Big Rapids, Michigan manufacture shoes and boots for the general public and the military.

But the jobs could be at risk because of a federal rule change.

The change means Bates Footwear can no longer bid on military contracts set aside for small businesses - because Bates Footwear is now considered part of the larger corporation that owns it - Wolverine Worldwide.

Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga, who has constituents who work at Bates, says the rule change jeopardizes more than the jobs.  He says Bates designers have expertise in meeting specific military needs - such as when soldiers stationed in the mountains during the war in Afghanistan complained their footwear was not up to the challenge.

"Very quickly they (Bates designers) were able to respond," says Huizenga.  "They got them the type of boot that fit the Afghan mountain terrain that they were fighting on.  That type of capability, once it's lost, is very difficult to gain back."

Huizenga says the rule change could also threaten the capacity to quickly ramp up to meet emergency needs - such as the deployment of troops after 9/11.

"If we don't keep this manufacturing base in place,  if and when we have one of those types of situations, we're not going to be able to respond," says Huizenga.

Wolverine Worldwide released this statement:

Arbitrary, technical changes to the Small Business Administration’s “small business” size standards in 2012 have had unintended consequences that are damaging to the extremely fragile Berry-compliant footwear manufacturing industry. These changes dramatically shift and negatively impair the competitive landscape of the entire industry, and potentially limit the product offerings for our men and women in the military. The impact of these changes can be remediated by simply exempting the Berry-compliant footwear industry from the SBA requirements.

The Berry Amendment (USC, Title 10, Section 2533a), requires the Department of Defense to give preference in procurement to domestically produced, manufactured, or home-grown products, most notably food, clothing, fabrics, and specialty metals.

Huizenga says he and Republican Congressman John Moolenaar are working with Democrats in the Senate, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, to try to fix the problem.