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Contributed kind roundtable

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, center in blue shirt, meets with rural economy leaders at the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday. Chamber executive director Vicki Markussen is at his right.

Representatives of Coulee Region businesses, manufacturers, farm groups and credit unions painted a vivid picture for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of the chaos confronting them — in part because of the trade war President Donald Trump launched with tariffs on steel and aluminum.

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U.S. Rep. Ron Kind mug

Ron Kind

“Industries and businesses that Wisconsin is proud of, like our world-class dairy, pork and manufacturing, are facing damage to their bottom lines because of the president’s bad trade policies and self-inflicted mistakes,” the La Crosse Democrat said after a round table attended by nearly 20 stakeholders Thursday at the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Dan Markussen of Chart

Markussen

“Everything we put out of our plant is 100 percent aluminum,” said Dan Markussen, business development manager at Chart Energy, a La Crosse company that manufactures industrial heat exchangers.

Chart’s main competitors are in Germany, France and Japan, which are unaffected by the tariffs, Markussen said.

Bidding jobs for the global market is difficult when Chart’s costs rise but competitors’ don’t, Markussen said.

Chart has not been able to find domestic sources for aluminum, especially of the quality for “one of our major parts that is specialized and makes our product unique,” he said.

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Paul Bagniefski mug

Bagniefski

‘Killer of a first quarter’

Although Mid-City Steel in La Crosse has been able lately to pass on some of the costs of the 15 to 20 percent steel increases to customers, “we had a killer of a first quarter of the year,” including a $10 million contract for which it could not do so, said Paul Bagniefski, Mid-City’s president and chief operating officer.

“In the immediate short term, with the economy doing well,” tensions have eased, but concerns remain about cost increases related either to tariffs, the market in general, or both, Bagniefski said.

Last week, China threatened to raise another $60 billion of tariffs a year on American products, after Trump ordered the administration to consider increasing tariffs on Chinese imports to 25 percent.

China has placed retaliatory tariffs on Wisconsin products like dairy, cranberries, pork and ginseng, Kind said.

“There is no question that China is cheating,” he said.

However, instead of just slapping on tariffs, the president should seize “the great opportunity to show leadership and form an international commission to stand up to China,” Kind said.

Trade treaties with other countries would show respect for the rule of law instead of unilateral action, he said.

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Sam Van Riper mug

Van Riper

Rising prices lead to canceled contracts

The tariffs have raised the price of cans, which hurts companies that sell canned vegetables, fruits and other products, said Nick George, president of the Midwest Food Products Association in Madison.

“Seventy percent of all processed foods and beans come out of the Midwest. This is a big deal,” George said.

“Steel tariffs raised the price of cans 2 cents a can,” he said. “That jeopardizes a lot of contracts. We have folks who lost contracts with Europe. A lot of foreign companies swoop in with finished products where the tariff wasn’t applied.”

While Trane in La Crosse has dodged a bullet so far, as its competitors struggle with the same steel price increases (averaging around 5 percent), that could change easily, said Sam Van Riper, Trane’s pricing director.

“If China becomes a major player, that changes the ballgame,” said Van Riper, who acknowledged that market uncertainty wreaks havoc with bidding jobs a year out.

“When you get blindsided (with cost increases) on jobs you are bidding now, that’s where you get hit,” he said.

Several participants acknowledged the difficulty of leveling the playing field internationally, with Inland owner and CEO Mark Glendenning saying, “I’m on record that we’ve been taking it on the chin,” especially from China.

“It’s about time we take a stand because we’ve laid down too long,” Glendenning said.

Kind agreed, although he noted that pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as Trump did within days after his inauguration, didn’t help matters. The TPP had been a broad trade agreement among 12 countries, including Japan, Vietnam and Australia.

Reduced to 11 countries since the U.S. withdrawal, the TPP was intended to lower tariffs in the region to counteract Chinese clout there.

“We’ve got to get back in that tent,” Kind said, adding that the United States must develop trade agreements. “The rest of the world is moving ahead of us,” especially the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

600 dairy farms could fold this year

Darin Von Ruden, a third-generation Westby dairy farmer who is president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, lamented continuing low milk prices, which began before tariffs were introduced but are dropping because of retaliatory measures from other countries.

“We’ll probably lose 600 dairy farms in Wisconsin this year,” Von Ruden said, adding dairy farms number about 8,400 — down from 80,000 about 50 years ago.

Von Ruden voiced concern over products and materials farmers need for their operations, specifically citing a community-backed agriculture enterprise where the owner ordered a greenhouse at the beginning of the year.

By the time the greenhouse was delivered recently, the manufacturer charged an extra $750 because of rising costs at that level, he said.

Von Ruden and others were skeptical about the $12 billion Trump promised to help farmers suffering setbacks because of the tariffs, in part because it sends a bad signal and partly because such bailouts from self-inflicted wounds are not sustainable.

“We’ve already lost more than $12 billion,” he said.

Kind told of a pork producer who came into his office and said, “I want to be able to sell my pork — I don’t want to get pork from Washington.”

As small towns go, so goes nation

A credit union official raised the specter of a national recession as farmers are forced to move from survival plans to exit plans because they can’t get credit.

Some grain farmers who planned to build bins to store grain until prices improve but had to cancel the orders when tariffs increased steel prices, in turn jacking up prices for the bins, he said.

“If this doesn’t change, farmers won’t be buying pickups and bins” and other supplies, wreaking havoc in small towns that depend on farmers and farm-related businesses, he said.

“I hear talk of recession,” he said.

Inland’s Glendenning said, “As the United States of America, we should all band together. It really frustrates me, all this Democrat versus Republican. It’s all about getting elected — that’s just crap.

“I’m tired of seeing America get punched in the gut and then taking it on the chin,” he said.

Trane’s Von Riper recalled the days after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when political concerns fell by the wayside as Americans spoke and acted in solidarity against a common threat.

“It shouldn’t take a Sept. 11 to do that,” he said.

Mike Tighe can be reached at mtighe@lacrossetribune, or follow him on Twitter @necktye.

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(21) comments

Redwall

Establishment politicians, repub and dem, had turned the U.S. position on trade to that of Surrender Monkeys. Big business salivates at cheap labor provided by corrupt politicians.

While WTO lifted millions in China into the middle class, it dumped the U.S. middle class into decades of decline (U.S. labor should have revolted decades ago but the union officials instead lined their own pockets even while their membership declined).

Finally, we have a non-establishment president willing to fight back.

GrandpaS

I'm on an angry roll, so I'll post one more comment and then back off. I sincerely believe that one of the reasons (the main one?) Trump is setting up these tariffs is that he enjoys the power trip that it gives him. "Check me out. I used my power and status to set all these tariffs in place all by myself. No, they're not going to work, but I don't care. I get the head-swelling sensation of how much power I have. No, North Korea hasn't really agreed to or started any denuclearizing, but who cares about what's really happening? I get to brag about how I, with my infinite power and ability, took down the nuclear threat posed by Rocket Man. The fact that in many cases I don't even know what's going on, and in even more cases, I lie about it, is irrelevant. What's important is that I am really enjoying this power trip. I am SOOOO cool."

Redwall

Gee, lets return to the same old NAFTA and WTO policies that cost the U.S. 10 million jobs and 10's of thousands of businesses.

Kind has been in congress for decades and I dont recall him leading the charge to save american job or factories. Where was he before the U.S. actually started to fight back in this decades old trade war? And he offers no solutions here, just pandering.

What this article a paid political announcement?

GrandpaS

I've said it before: The one good thing that has happened since Trump was elected is that our economy HAS CONTINUED THE TREND OBAMA STARTED and is doing very well. Now, with these tariffs, Trump will probably pull the rug out from under that. Why, why, why, do people continue to support him? The harmful effects of his tariffs are already becoming very obvious, and the uncaring GOP congress members DON'T EVEN TRY TO STOP IT. They don't even try. They just let it ride. Today's GOP and their supporters, number 1 being Fox News, will have us back into another recession by the end of Trump's first term. Republicans, you have to fix this. If that recession happens, it will sit squarely on your shoulders. I know you don't care about this country anymore and are only concerned with being re-elected, but if the US tanks again, you won't be re-elected. Does that provide any incentive to fix this problem? Nothing else seems to.

Redwall

Its called fighting from position of strength. Its tough to fight a trade war when unemployment is high.

GrandpaS

This article lays out the hard, ugly facts about what those stupid tariffs will do to our local businesses. And it's not just in this area, folks. Here's part of an article from a financial magazine, today's issue: Read this, Republicans. You really need to read this. We just got out of a recession. Do you feel like going through another one? The article:

"Some examples (of financial problems):
Mid-Continental Nail, the largest US nail producer, laid off 130 workers after steel prices jumped. One of its plant managers said the entire business could shut down over the next few months.
Element Electronics, a TV manufacturer, plans to lay off 127 workers from its South Carolina factory as "a result of the new tariffs that were recently and unexpectedly imposed on many goods imported from China."
Brinly-Hardy, an Indiana-based maker of lawn-care equipment, laid off 75 workers. "We are collateral damage in this effort," Jane Hardy, the company's CEO, told The Washington Post.
The Tampa Bay Times said in April that it was forced to lay off 50 people because of a tariff on Canadian newsprint. Other newspapers in small communities, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan's hometown paper in Janesville, Wisconsin, have also been forced to lay off staff.

Some businesses, such as Moog Music, which manufactures electronic musical instruments, have not taken action but have warned that the tariffs could eventually lead to layoffs. Other small businesses have furloughed workers or paused expansion plans while they wait and see how the trade fights play out. Small operators in industries from lobster fishing to metal shapers have curtailed workers' hours."

Redwall

Apparently you have not been tracking economic statistics over the last 18 months. There was something about 3.9% unemployment you may want to look into.

MAGA

GrandpaS

And the tariffs weren't in place as the US reached that 3.9% unemployment rate, were they? I predict more strongly than I want to that that 3.9% is going to start getting bigger in the near future.

Redwall

Its been a developing situation but yes tariffs have been if effect for some time.

Its odd the business complaining about the tariffs seem to be the same businesses complaining about not being able to find adequate numbers of employees to hire.

Redwall

There are 350 million people in the U.S. and one can find examples of anything if you look hard enough.

Thats why economists speak in terms of "aggregates". The aggregate statistics indicate we have a robust economy, and yes with some minor displacement as the tariffs ripple through it.

martian2

aren't trade wars fun! Yes hurt the farmers and manufacturers all on the promise that someday we will win!!! Meanwhile many won't be in business if and when that happens. Keep telling yourself it will all work out. do like Donald, and file for bankruptcy, more than once if needed! See there is always a solution!

CJ

Don't take the pity many farmers lay out there. The 2 fields that border our home, 1 farmer has received nearly $1,000,000 in farm subsidies & the other over $500,000. Who pays that you think? Do some research https://farm.ewg.org/search.php

GrandpaS

If they could sell their products at a profitable price, they probably wouldn't have to have subsidies.

CJ

So you like the idea to pay farmers with tax money to make corn for ethanol? If you can't make it get out simple supply & demand.

DMoney

We will win the trade war. Other countries are hurting worse than us. But they are probably tougher, which will allow them to win and keep taking advantage of us for generations to come.

Cassandra2

Dbag, please tell us where you got your degree in economics. Because a huge majority of REAL economists think you're full of baloney. Meanwhile, all of us pay the price for Trump's failed policies. But you don't care because your guy is clinging to power. That's really pathetic.

Rick Czeczok

Ron, did Pelosi say this was OK for you to write. After all you have voted 98.5% on party line. Explain to me how that's working for the people. Sounds more like following party orders. The only time we here from you is when it's election time. We need a change in western Wisconsin. Someone who will stick up for us, instead of the party, which funnels all the money to the coast's.

DMoney

You know Kind is the only Democrat I've consistently voted for since I was 18. That's going to change this next time. I verified your stat. It's true. He used to be more centrist. Having no competition makes anyone complacent.

GrandpaS

You know what, Rick? This issue isn't about how Kind votes. If you don't like that, then, yes, vote for someone else. BUT......There's a really huge point here that you've completely missed: The tariffs imposed by our current totally incompetent, unknowing president are killing jobs. According to Westby farmer Von Ruden, Wisconsin could lose almost TWO farms per day BECAUSE OF OUR HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE PRESIDENT. Local businesses are suffering and could be in serious trouble. Did you not read this article? Seriously. Did you not read it? Are you as unaware of the harmful reality we're facing as our inexcusably ignorant president? How in the h*** can you live in the US and not see this problem? Do you not read? Watch anything besides Fox? Wake up. Look at the facts. Fight for American businesses, not the Republican party or our God-awful president.

Cassandra2

The trouble is, Gramps, that Russians like Zerocock simply don't care about the damage inflicted on US businesses and agriculture. It's all part of their plan to weaken our country.

GrandpaS

Did you know Ron Kind was one of the Democrats who fought against Pelosi being elected minority party leader? Did you know that by repeating the current "Nancy Pelosi is a terrible human being and she runs the Democratic party" mantra of the GOP and Fox News, you demonstrate that you buy whatever they try to sell you?

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