Brindisi Secures Key Victory for Upstate New York in Defense Bill

December 13, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The House passage of the National Defense Authorization Act means many things to many people, but to the residents of one region in Upstate New York, the massive spending bill means one thing: good-paying jobs for the foreseeable future.

That’s because through the efforts of Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Sen. Chuck Schumer the Support Procurement Of Our Nation’s Stainless Steel Act (SPOONSS) was included in the final version of the $783 billion defense bill.

The measure, championed by Brindisi in the House, reinstates the Berry Amendment’s long-standing Department of Defense domestic sourcing requirement for stainless steel flatware.

“Stick a fork in it, the SPOONSS Act is included in the NDAA,” a jubilant Brindisi said.

“I fought hard to get this legislation included because it will create good-paying jobs in Oneida County … [and] I want to thank Senator Schumer for his hard work to keep this provision included in the final bill,” he said.

The story behind the bill is the story of a small manufacturing business, Sherrill Manufacturing, that stuck it out in Upstate New York, while many of its counterparts in the region were shutting their doors and moving their operations overseas.

Prior to the early 2000s, Oneida Limited, headquartered in Sherrill, New York, was both a thriving local business and the world’s largest flatware producer.

Then, after years of eroding business caused by competition from low-cost Asian manufacturers, Oneida announced plans to close the Sherrill factory, eliminating several hundred jobs.

That’s when Matthew Roberts and Gregory Owens, both former Oneida employees, pooled their resources and bought the factory for $1 million. They opened Sherrill Manufacturing in the same factory space the day after Oneida closed.

But things weren’t easy.

Though it continued to produce silver flatware for Oneida Ltd., like most small businesses,  it was vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy and changes in its industry.

The biggest of those changes was a loosening of the requirements of the Berry Act, which since World War II had restricted the Defense Department from buying goods manufactured outside the United States.

Once a guaranteed source of revenue for the company through Government Services Amendment contracts, Sherrill now had to compete for work with foreign manufacturers, just like Oneida had.

When its contract with Oneida ended, Sherrill Manufacturing was in dire straits. In 2010 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. When it emerged from bankruptcy protection three years later, it not only had a new business model — selling some of its output directly to the public under the Liberty Tabletop brand, it also had a new lease of government work.

However, to meet the challenge of supplying forks, knives and spoons to the military, it needed the work to be stable enough to warrant a significant investment in production machinery and people. In short, it needed the Berry Act to be revived.

“We’re an apolitical company, willing to work with anyone who can get things done, and we began to work with Sen. Schumer and then-Rep. Claudia Tenney on the issue,” Matthew Roberts, who is now the company’s president, told The Well News.

Together, Schumer and Tenney repeatedly proposed bills that would bring the old restriction back. Every time they did, the bill was dropped at the last moment.

After Brindisi succeeded Tenney, Roberts brought him up to speed on the issue.

“I told him that we had a contract with the government worth about $1 million a year, but we were still missing out on a lot of business — even as we were hearing complaints about the quality and delivery reliability of our competitors’ products,” Roberts said.

The congressman said he knew immediately that if he could get the restriction back into the NDAA “It would help Upstate companies like Sherrill Manufacturing sell more flatware and employ more people in our community.”

With Brindisi working to shore up support for the bill in the House, Schumer fought for the inclusion of the Act in the final conference report.

“This is a wonderful realization of a goal we have long pursued,” Sen. Schumer said on Thursday. “We’ve gotten the U.S. government to use its buying power to support the world-class workers at Sherrill Manufacturing — the very last flatware maker in the good ol’ US of A.”

Schumer said he was proud to have worked with Brindisi to “finally put a fork in this issue.”

The SPOONSS Act will go into effect one year after passage and sunset in 2023.

In the meantime, the Secretary of Defense is expected to compile a report — due Oct 1, 2020 — providing a market survey, cost assessment, description of national security considerations, and a recommendation regarding whether procurement of stainless steel flatware should be limited to domestic sources. 

On Thursday, Roberts said he expects the $1 million his company currently realizes through its GSA contract to climb to between $3 million and $5 million as a result of Brindisi and Schumer’s work.

“We currently have 56 employees,” he said. “If you think of every $100,000 you add in sales allowing you to add another employee, I can easily see hiring another 20 to 30 people because of this.”

“Of course, we’ll also have to add equipment to meet the increased demand, but that’s the kind of challenge you want to have to meet as a small business,” he said, adding, “This is just a blessing for us.”

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