In June, Mid Continent Nail Corporation in southeast Missouri said it would be difficult to survive until Labor Day without tariff exemptions on the steel wire used to manufacture its nails. Labor Day has come and gone. The Poplar Bluff company is clinging to hope that the U.S. Commerce Department will soon grant its requests for 24 exclusions.
The exemption route is a long, drawn out process for American companies. The federal agency has been inundated with about 20,000 requests – leading to a major backlog and very few decisions have been granted.
Two weeks ago, company officials met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to plea for immediate exemptions. They walked away from the meeting with no definite action. If the exclusions are not granted soon, Chris Pratt, general operations manager of the plant, says a critical business decision will have to be made.
“Can I tell you that we can last until the end of September? No. What I can tell you is that if we don’t get immediate relief, we can be shut down in the next 20 to 30 days,” Pratt tells reporters during a conference call today. “Sooner rather than later keeps our company from losing money every day. We made a commitment back in June to keep our company open to incur significant losses day in and day out. We are actually keeping employees that we actually do not need to produce product. We are keeping them on staff, paying their wages, providing them with benefits and things of that nature, in hopes that our Administration will follow through with what is hopeful, which is to grant our exclusions.”
The company has laid off about 160 workers since President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports began on June 1. It now employs about 335 workers, down from about 500 before the tariffs took effect.
Company sales have plummeted 70 to 80% since the 25% steel tariff began. Mid Continent had to increase its nail prices by about 19% to make up the difference. The increased prices have led customers to cancel orders and find cheaper nails in China, Taiwan, India and elsewhere.
Pratt calls the mood among the remaining workers dismal.
“I walk through the plant and look at these people’s faces and they all look at me with a look that’s like ‘Do I have a job tomorrow?’ After my 29 years and seeing this company grow to the point it is today, I would have never believed we’d be in the state we are in today out in our facility. It’s hard for them to even see a positive outcome,” he says.
Pratt says the tariff has thrown the company into a tail spin.
“This is a company that has doubled in size in the last five years, had a continued growth pattern. To see 500 jobs lost that could have turned into 750, maybe 1,000 in a few years, that’s detrimental to the economic welfare and well-being of this community,” he says. “Things are getting harder everyday and every week. Here are the facts, our company’s in trouble. Unfortunately, if we go under, the entire nail-making industry in the United States will go under along with us. While the 500-plus jobs in Poplar Bluff are my biggest priority and I feel personally responsible for every one of these jobs, there’s a lot more at stake.”
Mid Continent is the last major nail supplier in the United States and is owned by Mexico-based Deacero. The parent company produces steel and ships the material to its own plant in Poplar Bluff.
Two U.S. steel makers oppose tariff exemptions requested by Mid Continent – seemingly further delaying a decision on whether to grant the factory’s exclusions. Company officials say Nucor Corporation in North Carolina and Mid-South Wire, in Tennessee contend that U.S. steel companies can supply Mid Continent with the level of raw materials it requires to produce nails.
Nucor operates plants in St. Louis and northwest Missouri’s Maryville. The company is also opening a steel factory soon in west-central Missouri’s Sedalia. Mid-South has a steel mill in southeast Missouri’s Scott City.
Pratt says there’s no way the domestic industry can cover its needs.
“We’ve asked several of the major steel suppliers in the country for bids and they can only offer about 10% of what I need on a monthly basis,” says Pratt.
The comment period ended August 17. Company spokesman Jim Glassman says rebuttals are a mixed blessing.
“Rebuttals are necessary because the claims that are being made by some of the domestic steel makers are completely off the charts. I think that’s why rebuttals are necessary, but rebuttals are going to extend the process. We need a decision now,” he says.
Adam Gordon with Mid Continent says claims being made by the steel makers are not consistent with facts on the ground as he sees them.
“While Nucor, in particular, is not claiming it can supply Mid Continent’s needs, it makes claims about the industry as a whole without any support. Mid-South says that it can supply Mid Continent’s needs, but it’s contingent on Mid-South getting enough supply of raw material,” Gordon says. “With the tariffs going into effect, domestic supply of raw materials has become incredibly tight. Many of the upstream big steel producers are putting downstream wire draws or finished goods producers on allocation.
Mid Continent, which launched in 1987, is located in a region that staunchly supported President Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle. Trump, who campaigned on bringing jobs back to America, won Missouri by 19 points.
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