Trump tariffs hit US Midwest unevenly


PORTAGE, IN – MARCH 15: Workers make steel at the NLMK Indiana mill on March 15, 2018 in Portage, Indiana. The mill, which is projected to produce up to 1 million tons of steel from recycled scrap in 2018, is considered a “mini mill” by U.S standards. NLMK Indiana is a subsidiary of NLMK, one of Russia’s largest steel manufacturers, responsible for nearly a quarter of Russias steel production and producing nearly a quarter of the worlds slab steel. Steel producers in the U.S. and worldwide are preparing for the impact of the recently-proposed tariffs by the Trump administration of 25 percent on imported steel. (Scott Olson/AFP)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s duties on imported metals are creating winners and losers – and challenges for businesses — in the American Midwest. Poplar Bluff, Missouri is home to MidContinent Nail Corporation—the first company to lay off workers linked to the tariffs on imported steel. But another nail factory in the same city – one that uses U.S. sourced steel – is so far surviving. In a steel mill – in neighboring Illinois – those same duties have been helping other workers get their jobs back.


Keith Dufresne pictured in front of Granite City Steel Works, Granite City, Illinois


Tariffs Won Back His Job

For the first time in two years, 39-year-old Keith Dufresne, is reunited with his family. Dufresne and wife Sarah are raising five children—ages 16 to 4 years old. He is one of approximately 500 employees at Granite City Works—a mill operated by United States Steel Corporation in Granite City, Illinois. U.S. Steel has hired them back after the Trump administration slapped 25 percent tariffs on imported steel.

“We’re making steel again,” he said. “Everyone’s happy. Trump’s tariffs have helped us out immensely.” 

After he got laid off in March of 2015, Keith went on the road as a union pipefitter.

“I missed being home — hearing everything going on,” he explained. “It gets lonely.”

Now, he’s back for his boys’ football games, and his eldest daughter’s bowling competitions. The long separation makes him appreciate simple pleasures like giving his four-year-old little girl, Ivy, an ice cream sandwich for dessert.

Asked whether he worries that this job could disappear again just as fast as it did last time, Keith said, “I think as long as the tariffs stay in place, U.S. Steel can do good business.”

But, he’s not giving up his union card — just in case he needs to work as a pipe-fitter again.


Sean Hughey, pictured at MidContinent Nail Corporation, Poplar Bluff, Missouri


On the Losing End of Tariffs

Sean Hughey has lost dozens of co-workers at Mid Continent Nail Corporation. The company laid off more than 100 workers – roughly 20 percent of its workforce – since June. Sales fell by half after Trump slapped tariffs on the Mexican steel it imports.

“This is a big hit to our whole community. You know? How could it not worry you? Because this is a hit on not only our employees, but the suppliers and their families,” Hughey said.


Jeff Libla, pictured with his sons, Mason & Blayne; Poplar Bluff, Missouri


Staying in Business by Staying American

Jeff Libla started Legacy Fasteners 18 months ago, after leaving Mid Continent. Legacy Fasteners sells industrial nails in the United States—made with American steel.

“I just firmly believe that without U.S. manufacturing, then the spirit of America just dies,” he said.

Marsha Libla – Jeff’s sister and co-owner of Legacy Fasteners – said the company employs about 27 workers. The company isn’t hiring right now, but it’s not letting anyone go, either. “We’ve had no reason to lay anybody off,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean the company is immune to increases in the price of steel wire. It has risen about 30 percent since January, he said. Most of his customers have been willing to absorb the extra cost to buy American. While the tariffs are helping him compete with rivals who buy imported steel, Libla isn’t rushing to expand just yet.

“The tariffs have probably made us cautious – not necessarily take advantage of some situations,” he said.