In a U.S. manufacturing hub, no illusions about tariffs and jobs

Courtesy of Reuters. By Howard Schneider

THOMASVILLE, N.C. (Reuters) – In a town where a 30-feet tall chair is the chief landmark, and which is synonymous with a U.S. furniture industry decimated over the years by imports from China, many greet the possibility of tariffs on Chinese goods with a shrug. No wonder. Of three once bustling Thomasville furniture plants in the city limits, one is being demolished and cleared for parkland, another may become the site of a new police station, and a third is being converted into apartments. President Donald Trump is threatening to levy tariffs of up to 25 percent on $500 billion of goods imported from China each year, including roughly $20 billion of furniture, as a way to bring back hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost to China and other low-cost competitors.

Yet, the transformation of U.S. industries since China’s emergence as the world’s low-cost producer almost two decades ago means many no longer directly compete with Chinese imports, so tariffs may not translate so easily into more U.S. jobs. At family-owned Bernhardt Furniture in Lenoir, some 90 miles west of Thomasville, executives say it would take about $30 million in capital investment – some 10 percent of annual sales – to resurrect standard wood furniture lines now mainly made in countries like China and Vietnam.

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