Tariffs starting to hurt, Elgin manufacturers tell Durbin
Some Elgin area manufacturers say they are beginning to suffer from steel and aluminum import tariffs imposed six months ago by President Donald Trump.
"We started paying the tariff in March. It's costing us a great deal of money," said Mike Bilyk, president and CEO of American NTN Bearing.
One of the company's main competitors is from South Korea, which is exempt from the tariffs -- although subject to a quota -- Bilyk said. Also exempt from the tariffs are Argentina, Australia and Brazil.
The roundtable discussion Tuesday was organized by the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Elgin Development Group for the benefit of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. The Democrat said he wanted to find out more about the consequences of the tariffs -- 25 percent on imported steel, 10 percent on imported aluminum -- on local employers.
The Trump administration said its goal was to bring back manufacturing jobs, Durbin said. He pointed to U.S. Steel, which is bringing back 800 jobs at its steel mill in Granite City, Illinois. "Thank goodness," he said. "I'm glad they got their jobs back."
But the discussion must include the voices of U.S. manufacturers who are harmed, Durbin said. "Those steel workers are very visible walking through their gates. The impact we're talking about is not visible."
Jim Companik of Motorola Solutions said the company also is starting to feel the impact of tariffs. "We're trying to mitigate that cost to the best of our ability," he said.
In the long term, production might be relocated or consumers might end up paying higher prices, the manufacturers said. Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said he worries about local jobs.
U.S. manufacturers have been filing requests with the government to be excluded from the tariffs based on whether they can find the needed quality or quantity of materials, or if their products have national security uses.
Illinois' 6th Congressional District had the highest number of steel exclusion requests in the U.S., with 2,595 filed by four firms as of Aug. 17, according to Tradevistas, a partner of the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. Illinois' 5th District had the highest number of aluminum exclusion requests, with 665 filed by two firms.
Bilyk said NTN has heard nothing so far about its requests. Durbin called the process "very opaque'" and said that's one of the issues that need to be fixed.
Durbin asked whether U.S. companies could begin producing the steel and aluminum needed by local manufacturers.
That might be possible, Bilyk said, but it will take a few years for them to upgrade their technology, and the manufacturers also will need time to verify the products meets their expectations.
"My personal feeling is that trade is important and that we need to have it as part of our national economy," Durbin said.