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New Balance gains from military rule change

The Pentagon will begin requiring the athletic shoes that new recruits purchase with military allowances be American made, a change supporters hope will ensure about $180 million in sneaker allowances are spent on domestic products.

The Department of Defense has long required that many of the goods it purchases be American made as much as possible, though the new recruit athletic shoe allowance has been exempted.

The change, announced on Friday, could be a boon to Boston-based New Balance, which operates its largest plant in Lawrence, and another Michigan-based footwear company that already produce a line of sneakers that meet military specifications.

Matt LeBretton, director of public affairs for New Balance, has said the change could create up to 200 jobs, many of which would be in Lawrence.

“Innovative companies, such as New Balance right here in Massachusetts are able to provide our service members with quality products and keep business here on American soil,” Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, said in a statement. “This policy change will boost job growth, spur economic development and innovation and give the brave men and women of our armed forces better gear.”

Tsongas filed legislation last year with Maine Congressman Mike Michaud to require the allowances be used on American-made shoes, but the Pentagon decided to change the policy without an act of Congress.

“DoD has an interest in having our recruits purchase domestically manufactured athletic shoes to the maximum extent practicable in order to abide by the spirit of the Berry Amendment,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox said in a statement.

The Berry Amendment refers to the 1941 policy that military equipment made of textiles be completely American made.

Massachusetts manufacturer New Balance now produces a 100-percent Berry Amendment-compliant shoe that costs less than the current Army allowance, according to Tsongas’ office.

New Balance has two factories in Massachusetts — Brighton and Lawrence — and three in Maine where it manufactures its athletic wear. Lawrence is the biggest facility and includes testing and research and development. Requiring recruits to use their military allowance on 100-percent-American-manufactured footwear would give a boost to New Balance and Wolverine World Wide, the other qualifying manufacturer.

Wolverine World Wide, based in Rockford, Mich., makes brands including Saucony, Patagonia, Hush Puppies and Keds.

Five other American companies have begun making shoes to the military’s specifications, Tsongas’ office said.

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