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Tariff battle hits home

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AMHERST – The results of President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum imports are mixed, as some long-stagnant mill towns in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are again bustling with activity.

However, as purchasers of steel and other equipment needed to manufacture its profile knives for woodworking professionals, officials at Amherst-based Williams & Hussey Machine Co. Inc. believe they are on the wrong end of the deal. Steve Carter, the company’s owner and CEO, said the 25 percent tariff Trump imposed on steel imports only begins to tell the story.

“We just were notified by our motor manufacturer, Baldor (Electric Co.), that due to tariffs, they increased the prices … anywhere from 26 to 36 percent,” Carter said Tuesday. “Then, what they did is, they slapped on and they put a normal price increase after they put the tariff.”

Carter escorted U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., on a tour of Tuesday tour of his facility. Kuster said Trump’s tariffs are wrong.

“This aggressive approach is not working,” Kuster said. “It’s not like these countries are going to just sit back and take the tariffs. They’re going to have retaliatory tariffs back on us. And then, when you go to try to sell the finished product abroad, it will jack the price up and you won’t have any sales.”

“Ninety percent of the jobs in New Hampshire are small business and we’ve got to be fighting for them,” she added.

In recognizing small business as being the backbone of the Granite State, she also said there is a need to train a whole generation of machinists that has been lost. This is why work is being done with career and technical education in high schools and community colleges.

“I think we had a whole generation where we said, ‘Oh, go off to college and don’t work with your hands, don’t be in a factory.’ And the reality is, we’re making things. We make things – that’s what we do in America,” Kuster said.

Another point Carter made is that being a small business, he doesn’t have the buying power of larger companies. He can’t just go order 500 tons of product. Rather, his business goes through a distributor of steel. He believes a trade imbalance is common, but views this current situation as “bullying.”

And as a result of the tariffs, Carter and many other small business owners across the country are faced with the question of how much of the price increase do they absorb and how much do they pass on to the customers?

While he struggles in making tough business decision placed upon him by the present trade situation, Carter still takes pride in being a small American manufacturer, one that’s helping to refurbish the Capitol in Washington, D.C. While he assists officials with the Architect of the Capitol restore wood molding in the Library of Congress and other buildings, he hopes to soon have some assistance from those walking through the halls he is helping to restore. Those with Architect of the Capitol are currently using some of his machines, and they will send a piece of molding to him so his company can then reproduce that exact piece.

“I’m so proud this little company is refurbishing the Capital,” Carter said while showing Kuster one of his machines.