Defense bill contains provision to buy Sherrill-made flatware

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The defense spending authorization bill agreed to by federal lawmakers Tuesday and expected to become law as soon as late this week contains a provision benefiting Sherrill Manufacturing by requiring the military to buy its flatware because it’s the only domestic supplier.

The legislation agreed to by the Senate and House contains the domestic requirement called for in a law adopted by the House in July. It was the Support Procurement of our Nation’s Stainless Steel Act , or SPOONS, introduced by freshman Congressman Anthony Brindisi, D-22nd Dist. of Utica. It restores 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, but employees of Oneida Ltd. took over the factory in 2005 to make flatware under a new company, Sherrill Manufacturing.

Brindisi’s predecessor representing the 22nd District, Republican Claudia Tenney, also championed restoring the flatware provision during her two-year term, but the Republican then-chairman of a key House committee objected to linking defense procurement to domestic jobs creation.

The Liberty Tabletop brand sold over the internet is the larger part of the business, on pace to grow about 20 percent this year, but the buy-domestic provision is significant, CEO Gregory Owens said. Depending on timing of any purchases and other factors, the rule could lead to the company hiring about a dozen people to add to its workforce of about 55, Owens added.

“This is just a huge shot in the arm and an additional boost to make us bigger and better and more competitive,” Owens said.

The buy-American provision was not in the Senate bill, but Sherrill Manufacturing worked with the staff of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and the Senate minority-party leader. The agreed-to legislation allows the Pentagon a year to comply. Language was added in the past two weeks to have the buy-domestic rule reviewed after two years to ensure the supplier is not taking advantage of the situation, Owens said.

“We gladly accepted that because it’s certainly not our intention to take undue advantage of this. The opposite; we’d like to expand our business. The whole idea is to expand employment in central New York.”

As for the provision stimulating domestic competition, that seems unlikely, Owens said, because Sherrill’s ability to compete in the greater flatware market depends largely on costly automation technology developed by Oneida Ltd. and acquired by his company.

“The type of specialized equipment that you need is not available sort of off the shelf. You would need to hire engineers and make it yourself. The barriers to entry for a competitor are fairly significant. We don’t see that as a real possibility.”

Most flatware used in the United States is made in China, and Sherrill Manufacturing executives noted that, though they stress their products’ domestic origin, Liberty Tabletop also has a higher-quality mix of alloys, finishes and freedom from potentially harmful contamination.

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