Johnson Says Tariffs Are ‘A Work in Progress’

SALEM, Ohio – Tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imports last month by President Donald Trump are “a work in progress,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson during a tour of Hickey Metal Fab Monday morning.

In a meeting with leadership from Hickey Metal Fab, Salem, Johnson heard concerns about the potential cost impact of the tariffs, as well as the company’s difficulty finding suitable workers that can pass a drug test.

Johnson said the tariffs – 25% on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum – are a work in progress. Hickey Metal Fab, said President Leo P. Hickey, imports its raw materials from countries like Sweden and are concerned about what the blanket tariffs could do to their bottom line.

“The president is trying to reset the stage for trade. He listened and heard about the unfair trade practices that have devastated our industries,” said Johnson, R-6 Ohio, during the meeting, adding that there will be product and country exemptions on the tariff list. “It’s going to be a while before the dust settles. Don’t think that where we are today is where we’re going to end up.”

The congressman also noted that while the U.S. has a trade deficit with several countries, the United States is also seeing an investment surplus from other countries. Specifically, he pointed to the PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker in Belmont County, a project for a Thai company backed by investors from South Korea.

The U.S. is still the place companies want to come. This is still the place where dreams are born,” Johnson said. “If they’re forced to buy U.S. steel, you can imagine what that does to a $6 billion, $8 billion project [like PTT]. We have to be careful and I believe the president knows that.”

When it comes to the issue with unemployment, Johnson said he’s long been in favor of requiring drug testing for those collecting unemployment benefits, but there’s more that can be done. He said that since part of the cause was overprescription of opioid painkillers, there are people who didn’t make “a lifestyle decision” that could be brought back into the workforce.

“If we keep moving forward, we can solve that problem. About a third of citizens have stopped looking for work and we need to turn them around,” he said. “Once we treat them, we have to get them back to normalcy. They’ve got to get jobs and support their families. We want to drive people to jobs, not to the welfare line.”

Following the meeting, Johnson toured Hickey’s plant and discussed the company’s expansion plans and technology upgrades. The company is waiting for the weather to break to begin work on a sixth building. Among the recently installed machines, Hickey’s president said, is a $1.8 million piece from Ready Robotics, that company’s 13th robot. With its machinery, Hickey produces everything from boom lifts to stainless steel cabinets to vehicle parts for the U.S. and Australian militaries.

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, along with Hickey Metal Fab President Leo P. Hickey, watches an automated machine at Hickey during a tour Monday.

“We have equipment in all of the properties so that if there are issues at one, we can move jobs around,” Hickey said. “This new building will have three pieces of equipment that are state-of-the-art. Two have automation which will lets us make parts better and faster.”

Johnson’s meeting with representatives from Hickey Metal Fab comes during a congressional recess, which he has spent traveling across his district meeting with businesses. The information gleaned from those meetings will be taken back to Washington and the White House, where Johnson has met with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence several times to discuss the impact of the tariffs.

“He’s putting countries like China and South Korea on notice that if you’re going to do business with America, it’s got to be fair,” Johnson said. “Family-owned businesses are what have made America great. It’s what’s built the largest, most powerful economy on the planet. A company like this is a model for others who want to pursue the American dream.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.