Steel tariffs hurting nail factory in Poplar Bluff, MO

Concern grows over tariff impact

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) **UPDATE** - Concerns about additional layoffs are brewing in Poplar Bluff, MO weeks after leaders at a local nail factory in Poplar Bluff said they're in a 'crisis mode'.

Mid-Continent Nail Steel and Wire, a major manufacturer that employees 500 people in town, has lost a lot of business and has laid off dozens of workers because steel tariffs imposed against Mexico forced the companies hand to raise prices on products.

Dennis Wickham, who manages the Lemonade House Grill in Poplar Bluff, says they serve people from local factories everyday.

If more workers are laid off at Mid-Continent, Wickham thinks they could lose business because it may force families to move away.

"Losing that amount of people in any position is just a tough loss in a community this size," he said. "Maybe why I'm more sensitive because I have (moved away) in my life and it is tough. It's tough to start fresh especially if you know you're middle aged and you do have children."

Tracy Tarpley is the office manager at Productive Staffing, and says people who lost their jobs or still work at nail factory are coming in to their agency and others in town to explore other employment options.

"When you're working 40 plus hours a week and all of sudden you walk into work the next day and you don't have a job, it's like what do I do?" Tarpley said. "They're desperate. From their perspective it's like I'll do whatever I've got to. I've got to feed my kids. I need a job. I've got bills to pay."

Tarpley is encouraging anyone who might be affected by layoffs to be proactive by working on their resumes and to reach out to local career centers or staffing agencies for help.

"We don't want them to feel alone. We are here for them. It's another avenue to get you in the door somewhere else," Tarpley said. "In case something happens, two months, six months, a year down the road I've still got your resume on file or have you in my system and I might be able to find something for you and give you a call."

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Chris Pratt is the Operations General Manager at Mid-Continent and says, "The imposition of these tariffs on our raw materials on June 1st has actually put our operations into a crisis mode."

The company is the largest U.S. nail manufacturer and employs hundreds of people in Poplar Bluff, but 60 employees recently lost their jobs and left one of Mid-Continent's three facilities looking like a ghost town.

"We're currently standing in the paper tape facility of our operations that we had to completely idle Friday afternoon at 5 o'clock due to lack of sales," Pratt said. "We do plan on reopening this facility as soon as our sale volumes come back."

Pratt said their customers have canceled 50 percent of their orders because the price of their products have jumped up since the steel tariffs started.

"The low priced import nails that we are having to compete with that are not apart of the section 232 tariff has forced our customers to start seeking products in those areas," Pratt said. "So they are going away from the US manufactured product that supports our local industry and jobs."

Although employees are being let go now, George Skarich, the executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the company saw large job growth in 2012 when it was sold to DeAcero, a global steel company based in Mexico.

"We went from 250 to 500 employees under their ownership, and it's been a really big impact in our local community," Skarich said. "It's a commodity business. To remain competitive against the $700 million worth of import product coming in we have to source our raw material as competitively as we can. Our choice was to do that through the product in Mexico and that is the downside to this tariff."

An employee who was training for the last three months and was let go Monday said the layoffs could a sign of bigger problems at the nail factory.

Pratt said the company is evaluating the negative impacts of the steel tariffs one day at a time and "making the decisions as they need to make them."

"Our goal is to fight every day for every U.S. American job especially the ones in Poplar Bluff Missouri," Pratt said. "We've spent the last two weeks pushing our lawmakers to try to get our raw materials excluded from this 232 tariff. That will give us the quickest relief and that is what we need at this point to keep us from making even more difficult decisions in the future."

Skarich believed the steel tariffs are not accomplishing the intended goal of creating more American jobs, but are instead hurting "downstream businesses."

"The amount of jobs being talked about in the steel industry are one-tenth of the amount of jobs that are now being affected by this," Skarich said. "Typical of how our country runs its the voice of the large versus the voice of the small."

Senator Claire McCaskill will tour the nail manufacturer on Friday, June 29.

She'll meet with employees and discuss the impact of the tariffs on Missouri businesses.

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