New Jersey manufacturers decry impact of tariffs, labor shortage at caucus hearing

There wasn’t much disagreement between manufacturers and a bipartisan caucus of state lawmakers over the impact trade tariffs are having on businesses in New Jersey.

“Really devastating, and that’s why we’re here today. We’re hoping to get some testimony. This is probably, I think, the largest turnout of any manufacturing caucus they’ve had and folks are concerned,” said Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal.

In the spring, President Donald Trump imposed 25 percent tariffs on some foreign-made steel and 10 percent tariffs on some foreign-made aluminum.

New Jersey manufacturers use imported steel to make a range of everyday products.

Gary Duboff from Arrow Fastener says he needs foreign-made steel to make staples and staple guns.

“We’re trying to keep jobs in New Jersey. We have 350 people in Saddle Brook, but we’re competing against people who are bringing in product from overseas, predominantly China,” Duboff said.

The Legislature’s manufacturing caucus gathered in a packed warehouse of chemical maker Spex Certiprep. They heard from the choir; everyone sang the same tune of despair over the tariffs.

Because tariffs are a federal issue, state lawmakers Tuesday grappled with just how much they could do to help local companies. They talked about writing resolutions and getting other states together to tell Congress that the tariffs are bad for business. One concrete idea they had is to offer tax credits.

“I’m trying to get through legislation that would give some type of tax credit for the purchase of steel or aluminum purchased for manufacturing in their product,” said Republican Senator Anthony Bucco.

While New Jersey businesses say they are the losers in this trade war, there are winners. Several steel giants, including U.S. Steel, have told investors that they are benefiting from the tariffs. And this week, the Congressional Research Service told Congress that the tariffs have brought in $1.4 billion dollars in extra revenue to the government in five months.

Tariffs weren’t the only thing manufacturers complained about Tuesday. They questioned how a proposed $15 minimum wage would hit them and wondered how the industry can solve a labor shortage and convince high school kids that this is a good, high paying career path.

The independent New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program helped arrange the gathering.

“We need to expose kids to different career opportunities in life, career paths. And we don’t. And not just in manufacturing or STEM, but a lot of different careers,” said New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program CEO John Kennedy.

Careers that businesses fear are now at risk because of a trade war.

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