SHERRILL — If a bill requiring the Defense Department to buy only American-made flatware becomes law, Sherrill Manufacturing could grow its workforce by nearly half, its co-founders say.
Gregory Owens and Matt Roberts, CEO and president respectively, and the rest of the company’s workforce hosted Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi, D-22, Utica, on Tuesday, to announce a renewed push to get the buy-American provision for flatware back into defense procurement law.
As the only domestic maker of flatware left in the face of foreign competition, Sherrill could gain enormously, officials say, adding that Brindisi’s Support Procurement of our Nation’s Stainless Steel (SPOONSS) Act was passed by the House in July.
The proposed legislation would restore flatware to a law that directs the Defense Department to buy American-made versions of an array of supplies and products. Flatware was taken off the list in 2007 when the Pentagon determined there were no U.S. makers anymore.
Since then, though, flatware has returned to Sherrill, known as the Silver City from its decades as the site of Oneida Ltd. manufacturing before low-cost imports doomed the company, which shut its factory in 2005. Owens and Roberts, who formerly worked for Oneida, formed Sherrill Manufacturing and established the Liberty Tabletop brand, marketing it as what it is: the only flatware now made in the United States. Liberty sells directly to consumers from its website.
Brindisi’s bill was made part of the House version of the defense spending-authorization bill, and he said he is working with some key senators to get it into the Senate’s version in conference committee. He also wrote to both houses armed services committee urging adoption.
It would allow the Pentagon to buy foreign made flatware if it determined American-made was not available in sufficient numbers or at cost-effective prices.
“We’re halfway there. We’ve got another half to go, and we’ll keep at it,” Brindisi said as Owens, Roberts and most of the company’s workforce of 55 looked on during a break in work inside the plant Tuesday afternoon.
“American manufacturing and companies like Sherrill are the backbone of our economy,” Brindisi said. “And when it comes to our brave men and women in uniform they should be supplied with the very best.”
Brindisi’s predecessor representing the 22nd District, Republican Claudia L. Tenney, whom he narrowly defeated in November, also championed restoring the flatware provision during her two-year term. Among opponents then was the Republican then-chairman of a key House committee, who objected to linking defense procurement to domestic jobs creation.
But it’s more than jobs, Brindisi said Tuesday, because it can help preserve American industrial capacity while not indirectly supporting that of China, source of most imported low-cost flatware.
“I would much rather see our tax dollars going to support American workers and American manufacturers than supporting Chinese manufacturers and Chinese workers, which only benefits their economy and helps grow their military,” Brindisi said.
Owens put it this way: “We’ve lost an awful lot of manufacturing capacity and capability and innovation in this country to other countries, particularly China, over the last 20 or 30 years, and it’s time to bring some of those jobs back. One of the best ways to do that is for our military to use our tax dollars to support American manufacturing.”
Sherrill Manufacturing already has some federal government business supplying certain Naval vessels and embassies, but if the buy-American rule were restored, it could add up to 20 employees, Roberts said in an interview. That’s based on what he and Owens learned of previous Defense Department needs from Oneida.
Roberts insisted Sherrill could compete with Chinese-made flatware were it not for unfair trade rules and the Chinese government’s unfair support of its industry. Liberty Tabletop’s marketing stresses its higher-quality mix of alloys, finishes and freedom from potentially harmful contamination.
“The Chinese manipulate their currency,” he said. “They don’t care about environmental laws, worker safety or anything like that.”