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America lost more than three-fourths of its textile-mill jobs between 1991 and 2016. “One of my main objectives was to bring those opportunities back,” says Gary Heiman, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile.

Mr. Heiman has succeeded, creating around 400 jobs in two Southern towns, but now the Trump tariffs are threatening to drive those jobs back overseas. That’s the opposite of what Mr. Trump claims is happening due to his tariffs.

Standard Textile specializes in making sheets, towels and other reusable fabric products for hospitals and hotels. Since 2002 the company has invested some $66 million in American manufacturing facilities and equipment in Union, S.C., and Thomaston, Ga.

Workers don’t need a college degree, and Standard Textile provides on-the-job training for anyone who shows the right attitude and aptitude to work. Employees earn an average of $44,000 a year in salary and benefits—well above the median household income of $35,000 in Union and $27,500 in Thomaston.

A raw fabric known as greige is Standard Textile’s main input, and the company buys about $30 million worth from China each year. Workers at the Union facility scour, bleach, dye and finish the cotton material, sending rolls of the fabric to Thomaston for cutting, sewing and packaging. But in July the Trump Administration proposed raising tariffs by 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods—greige included. On Aug. 1 President Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to lift the tariff to 25%.

That increase would put Standard Textile at a major disadvantage against foreign competition. The company paid $2.9 million in duties for greige last year, and this would add up to $7.5 million more to its manufacturing costs. Finished textiles made by Chinese workers would continue to face the old tariff of 6.7%.

Mr. Heiman says the increased tariffs on greige would be such a burden that it could force him to shut down some of his American manufacturing plants, lay off hundreds of workers, and move operations overseas.

Mr. Trump won a majority of votes in Union and Thomaston in 2016. Russ Ogle, a plant manager at Standard Textile’s Union facility, says the President’s proposed tariffs have left his workers feeling bewildered. “The mantra for the Trump election, the promises, were bring back jobs to the United States, and particularly, manufacturing jobs,” Mr. Ogle says, adding:

“We’re here trying to fight the battle, to be competitive against lower-wage-paying countries around the world. And this tariff and its possible consequences would be devastating—absolutely devastating. Not only the loss of income, but the senselessness of it. This policy creates an unfair advantage for companies that are sourcing finished products from overseas at the expense of American manufacturers and jobs. We aren’t asking for any handouts, just a level playing field.”

Hundreds of companies are asking similar questions as they cope with the harmful consequences of his tariffs that Donald Trump doesn’t like to talk about.

Source : WSJ

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