The writer, of Carter Lake, is president of Owen Industries.
As a significant employer in the heartland, I would like to speak frankly in support of the Trump administration’s recently enacted Section 301 and Section 232 tariffs on imports of steel and fabricated steel structures. Our five divisions, three of which employ over 250 men and women from Nebraska and Iowa, and two of which employ over 100 men and women in North Dakota, and collectively support well over 1,000 family dependents, earn a modest margin on the sale and production and processing of American-made steel and the fabrication and manufacture of steel products.
These products continue to be under threat from subsidized production in China and, to a growing degree, Mexico. Literally millions of American production man hours are being replaced by those steel imports — 25 million tons of finished goods per year and 30 million tons of unfinished goods per year — risking good-paying manufacturing jobs throughout the United States.
I am proud to sit on the board of the American Institute of Steel Construction. Our board chair, David Zalesne, recently testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission about the Section 301 tariffs. His testimony reflected the reality of the new “gunboat diplomacy” by China, a part of its plan to lead the world and displace American supremacy in all industries.
(This strategy is laid out in the book “100 Year Marathon,” by Michael Pillsbury). Just 20 years ago our company, Paxton & Vierling Steel, produced these same fabricated steel products for export throughout the world. Now China and others have unfairly displaced these exports while not living up to their WTO obligations.
How many ratepayers know that the Nebraska Public Power District’s 2005 Beatrice plant was fabricated in China? The hours invested in building that project should have been expended in the Midwest, not in unsafe, polluting plants an entire ocean away. And it isn’t just the Chinese. As I write this, a Mexican-based steel fabricator is interviewing for a sizable project in our own backyard with a bid far below what could support our American workers (in some instances the base pay is $2 to $3 an hour). Should the Mexicans prevail, many more man-hours, and jobs, will disappear, and some of our neighbors, friends and family will be out of work. And to add to that, think of the additional loss of tax revenues on a local, state and federal level.
While no apologists for the administration’s style and somewhat eclectic behavior, we are fierce supporters of his actions on the trade front. Our goal is to protect our region’s workers and the companies that keep them employed. The post-war discussions at Bretton Woods could have never imagined a command economy like China undermining free and fair trade throughout the globe on this scale. It’s about time we had an adult conversation about global trade.
There are those who call tariffs taxes by another name; but at what price are we willing to sell out our domestic industries? For what discount are we willing to risk the future of these companies that employ our families, friends and neighbors? And further, should we defend our commodity production at the expense of advanced manufacturing? As important as our crops and grains are, we need weld wire and steel to build missiles, satellites and battleships.