JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A nail manufacturing company highlighted in Missouri's last U.S. Senate race said Thursday that it can start increasing production after President Donald Trump's administration granted it tariff exclusions.
The exclusions will exempt Poplar Bluff-based Mid-Continent Steel and Wire from paying 25 percent tariffs on most of the imported steel it uses. U.S. operations General Manager Chris Pratt said business dropped 60 percent since the tariffs took effect in June 2018. The company applied for the exemptions that month.
"We can now methodically ramp up production levels, moving toward the growth path we were on before the tariffs went into effect," Pratt said in a statement.
Pratt said the company cut about 60 temporary jobs and more than 140 other workers left over concerns about job security and were not replaced. That dropped the manufacturing workforce to fewer than 300 at the plant in rural Butler County, where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average and the company is the area's second-largest employer.
The fate of the company became an issue in the 2018 Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley, who won the November election.
While McCaskill opposed the tariffs, Hawley said on the campaign trail that he supported Trump's goal of getting tough with trading partners to obtain better deals for the U.S. and urged patience to see results from the negotiations.
In an August letter to the plant's Mexican parent company, Hawley wrote that he urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to grant exclusions for Mid-Continent quickly. But he also put pressure on the parent company, Deacero, to keep the Missouri plant open.
Mid-Continent repeatedly warned it could be forced to close without the exemptions but ultimately stayed open.
"We paid people that were highly skilled, trained manufacturing technicians to paint the floors, paint the walls, clean the parking lot, do a lot of different things. They weren't making nails," Pratt told The Associated Press. "We did not have a sufficient amount of customer orders to support the number of bodies we had, but our parent company told us those people are very important to us as a company."
When asked who deserves credit for securing the exemptions, Pratt praised numerous Missouri officials, including Gov. Mike Parson, U.S. Sens. Hawley and Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith and state Sen. Doug Libla.
"These gentlemen went above and beyond," Pratt said.
Blunt in a Thursday statement said Mid-Continent "now has the opportunity to bring much-needed jobs back to the area and continue on the path to stronger growth in the future."