The steel industry has been hit hard in recent years. Domestic steel mills idled their total production capacity due to exports of cheap steel from China that created an oversupply of steel in U.S. markets.
U.S. Steel Corp. has been in our regional area for decades, providing sustainable jobs for our local workforce and millions of dollars in business investment and plant upgrades. Our region has valued and appreciated these financially sustainable jobs and business investments for many decades. The firm’s long-term commitment to our regional communities has enabled the economic viability and financial health of our residents and surrounding businesses alike.
Granite City’s steel suppliers, fabricators, customers and employees have been financial drivers to our community’s economic health and well-being for over 120 years. The velocity and multiplier effect of the economic impact of the steel industry crisis is enormous. It is certainly just as important as the revenue the Rams brought to the St. Louis area, which gained national attention during the Super Bowl.
So, who cares about this steel industry crisis, and the jobs it provides to our region? The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois cares. We, the 220 leaders of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a member-based, economic development nonprofit organization representing Southwestern Illinois, are calling on Washington to expedite enforcement of the American Trade Enforcement Effectiveness Act (HR1295), which became law in June 2015. Swift and consistent enforcement of import tariff laws must be a priority to protect these jobs!
We were very concerned to see the announcement that indicated the temporarily idling of the Granite City Works steelmaking and finishing operations plant and pending layoff of over 2,000 employees, citing foreign steel product dumping. This crisis becomes even more significant when the combined impact to community and ancillary businesses is likely to be an estimated total of up to 3,000 employees laid off. These jobs are sustainable, high-paying positions that support real families and contribute significantly to the stability of surrounding communities, including school systems, municipal services, etc. These high-paying jobs at U.S. Steel are as important to Madison County as the jobs at Scott Air Force Base are to St. Clair County.
“American manufacturing companies must have a chance to compete on a level playing field,” said Ronda Sauget, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. She further stated, “The laws are in place, they need to be enforced.” And I strongly agree with this, as does our 220 members!
The act addresses what is referred to as “dumping.” That is foreign competitors exporting products to U.S. markets below the cost of production due to unfair market advantages or subsidies that are often instituted with the specific intention of putting U.S. firms out of business.
The problem is that after years of growth in China, the world’s second-largest economy, the demand for resources has begun to slow down. With different industry standards, this overabundance of Chinese steel has dropped the price of the hot-rolled steel manufactured in U.S. markets.
Manufacturers in fair market economies around the globe are being forced out of business and foreign governments have responded with swift and substantial trade remedies. In response, the European Union has called on Brussels to deploy their full range of trade defenses. India has imposed five-year anti-dumping tariffs with increasing duties.
In the U.S. steel market, the U.S. Commerce Department has significant trade laws and tools in place to enforce significant import trade tariffs; however, these efforts are often slow to address and resolve specific import trade cases. It is critical to have prompt attention to this very serious issue and address import trade cases more quickly with a strong, long-term resolution to foreign product dumping activities in U.S. markets.
As a region, we can raise awareness and strongly voice our collective concerns about this important domestic and international crisis. Clearly, our geographic location in the center of the country is one of the best-suited regions for manufacturing, warehousing and distributing with exceptional multi-modal transportation modes that enable freight shipments to most of the country within one short day’s travel. Further, we have some of the most productive advanced manufacturing workers in the world. We must protect these jobs and support anti-dumping foreign product trade law enforcement now and even more stringent enforcement in the future!
Mike Riley Sr. is chairman of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a member-based, economic development organization representing Madison and St. Clair counties.