Mid Continent Nail Corporation in southeast Missouri’s Poplar Bluff has laid off about 160 workers since President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports began on June 1. The company now employs fewer than 340 workers, down from about 500 before the tariffs took effect. Temporary workers have been let go and some permanent workers have left for other jobs and have not been replaced.
“Our company is in trouble, but a solution exists,” Mid Continent’s Executive Vice President for Sales George Skarich says in a press release. “When President Trump announced that he would impose Section 232 tariffs, he recognized the need for certain exclusions and put a process in place that would minimize undue impact on downstream American industries like ours.”
The company says soaring costs from 25% tariffs on steel have raised the price of the raw materials Mid Continent uses to produce nails. The increased prices have led customers to cancel orders and find cheaper nails in China, Taiwan, India and elsewhere.
Mid Continent, which is the last major nail supplier in the United States, is owned by Mexico-based Deacero. The parent company produces steel and ships the material to its own plant in Poplar Bluff.
The nail company launched in 1987 and is one of the largest employers in Butler County and the second largest one in Poplar Bluff. Nine out of the state’s ten poorest counties are in southeast Missouri.
Mid Continent has filed 24 applications to exclude the steel wire used to manufacture its nails from the tariffs. Unless the exclusions are granted soon, the company says it may have to eliminate as many as 200 more jobs and could close. Mid Continent says it is committed to doing whatever can be done to protect its workers, but the pressure the tariffs have imposed may force some very difficult decisions.
“I’ve got to believe our situation is the very definition of ‘undue impact’ the president was preparing for. All of our workers and the families they are supporting — we all continue to hope that the President will use that relief valve for us and grant the exclusions we’ve applied for so that we can save our company and these jobs,” says Skarich.
The U.S. Commerce Department is experiencing a huge backlog of exemption requests – leaving the future of several U.S. manufacturers in trouble. The agency is sifting through thousands of requests for exclusions and companies are reportedly waiting a prolonged period of time to get a response on any decisions.
Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is touring the factory. His opponent in the November general election, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, sounded the alarm in June about the company’s tariff issues.
Hawley and McCaskill have sharp differences on Trump’s trade war. Hawley credits the Trump administration’s tough talk on trade for forcing the European Union to make concessions and allow more imports of goods such as soybeans from Missouri.
McCaskill describes how Mid Continent Nail had received a judgment from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) against China for illegally dumping its nails into the American market. She says nails from China began reappearing in the U.S. six months after the ITC took action against the country because U.S. Customs lacked the manpower to provide enforcement.
President Trump defended his approach during a speech at the VFW National Headquarters in Kansas City late last month, pleading for the public to “be a little patient” and contending farmers would eventually be “the biggest beneficiary” of his policies. The very same day his administration announced plans for $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers hurt by trade disputes.
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