Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Kentuckians' paychecks come from buying American

The Associated Press

        McKEE — A law that requires the U.S. military to buy American equipment is keeping U.S. companies, including three in eastern Kentucky, in business.

        The law, called the Berry Amendment, protects jobs by requiring the military to buy its uniforms, textiles, shoes and canvas from U.S. companies. But critics warn that the law drives up the price of some products.

        In McKee, a town of about 1,000 that has lost textile jobs during the last decade, Specialty Defense Systems is making a special backpack for the Marines.

        The company has had military contracts for about six years.

        “It helps the whole county,” Mayor Dwight K. Bishop said. The workers make Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment — lightweight hiking gear that Marines call MOLLEs. Workers, who make on average $7 an hour, sew about 1,000 of them a week.

        “It gives you a great sense of national pride. It makes you proud to be an American,” said Charles Smith, 24, a plant employee.

        But critics say the military could save money by letting the international marketplace compete for the contracts.

        “The military's paying through the nose for goods it could get cheaper overseas,” said Ivan Eland, defense-policy expert with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “In most of these cases, we should be getting this stuff from whatever firm's the cheapest.”

        The criticism doesn't mar the patriotism at Appalachian Regional Manufacturing in Jackson, which makes military locks for Mas-Hamilton Group.

        Its president, Linda McGinnis, said her company can hold its own against overseas competitors.

        “I know we can ship cheaper from Jackson than from Hermosillo, Mexico,” she said. And the products are better, too, she said. “I'll put us up against anybody you want us to go against. We do a high-quality job here.”

        A third company in Stearns, Outdoor Venture Co., makes olive drab and desert tan portable shelters.

        “Without the Berry Amendment,” said company president J.C. Egnew, “our supply base would be decimated in a very short time.”


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