A West Michigan business executive and Trump supporter explains why tariffs are "killing us"

Jan 8, 2019

Pat LeBlanc, Chairman EBW Electronics
Credit EBW Electronics

Holland-based EBW Electronics employs 230 workers making automotive lighting circuit boards. The parts come from China and are assembled here. In a Sunday New York Times story the chairman of EBW had this to say about tariffs on Chinese made components, “It’s killing us.” In the Times story it was also stated the tariffs incentivize a company to move to either Canada or Mexico. 

Chairman Pat LaBlanc is a Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump. He spoke with WGVU about the media attention and realities facing his company.

“Well, last month we spent $60,000 on tariff fees and next year It’s on pace to be $1 million for the year. There were some tariffs that were going to go into effect January 1st, the Level 3 tariffs, and those were 25% on circuit boards and that’s really going to hit us hard. We’re currently paying about 10%. That got pushed back because of the meeting that Donald Trump had with President Xi (Jinping) they pushed it back to March 1st.”

How serious is LaBlanc about moving operations to Mexico?

“I’m a Michigan guy. I don’t want to move this business to there. So, I’m not serious about moving to (Mexico). I want to stay. I want to grow this business in Michigan, but I just need the President to know that this is hurting, at least this sector of the manufacturing business in America.”

How did the story become that LaBlanc was moving his company to Mexico?

“I basically said that there is a system set up that would induce a company to move to Mexico and some of my competitors who are already there are benefiting from this right now. So, basically I said companies can look at this two ways, you can look at this from the bottom line, dollars and cents, and it would be obvious to move to Mexico to avoid these huge fees we’re paying. But, we’re not that kind of company. We’ve been here for 27 years. We’re successful because of the people in Holland, Michigan and I don’t want to hurt them. I want to keep the business here.”

But LaBlanc also want President Trump to know the tariffs are hurting his business because he’s out making the media rounds looking for someone to hear his voice.

“You’re right and I want the President to know it’s hurting my business, absolutely. But I think we’re on the same page, we want to grow American jobs and so, on the balance maybe he thinks, maybe he knows about our plight or others like us, and on the balance we don’t move the needle. But if he does know about it I would hope that me making the media rounds would help him be aware of that.”

How long before the tariffs do some serious damage to LaBlanc’s company and the U.S. economy?

“Like I said, I do have some friends who the tariffs help. So, I can’t speak globally. I don’t know. I’m just saying my business is being hurt by this. In the balance, maybe it’s good for America but it’s bad for my company.”

Would LaBlanc like to see some serious negotiating between the U.S. and China take place soon?

“Absolutely, you know I heard a quote by the CEO of Cummins who’s the head of a small business roundtable he said, ‘The only thing worse than an unbalanced trade field is no trade field.’ This uncertainty is really hard for us. You know, do we order extra product now. Get it in before the 25% tariff come in? Well, the problem with that is then we hurt our cash flow. Do we put a shovel in the ground in Mexico to build a plant and then only to be halfway done and the tariffs go away. It’s this uncertainty that’s hard for us.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.