Wheatland Tube is nearing completion of a $14 million renovation to its Warren plant that resulted in the hiring of 30 workers.
The expansion will allow the company to complete more finishing products and get into more markets, said Tim Feeney, general manager of operations for JMC Steel Group, which owns Wheatland Tube.
The plant was the site of a visit by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, to talk about pushing for further trade changes that will “level the field” for U.S. companies and allow them to compete for steel work against China.
Brown and Ryan’s complaint is that China is artificially deflating its currency to make Chinese products less expensive than those made in the U.S. Both support the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act, which would allow the U.S. to create tariffs that would offset the advantage China allegedly gets by undervaluing its currency.
The steel industry is one Ohio business that has benefited from pushing the administration to enforce trade laws, Brown said.
“The manufacturing industry in the Mahoning Valley and across Ohio is bouncing back, but challenges remain — and that’s why we can’t turn a blind eye to trade partners that cheat. Our workers and business can compete with anyone when we enforce trade law, and that includes addressing China’s currency manipulation,” he said.
Tariffs that would make trade fair are important to add jobs at businesses such as Wheatland Tube, Ryan said. Its important for manufacturing to get the currency manipulation bill called for a vote.
There are those who don’t want the bill to come to the floor, because there are people who benefit from the current situation, he said. “If it gets to the floor, it will pass because no legislator wants to go back to their district and say they voted on the side of China.”
There is no one who can compete with American manufacturing if everything is equal, said David McCall, district director for the United Steelworkers Union in Ohio.
“We can be the most competitive steel and manufacturing producers in the world,” he said.
Changes in the Chinese currency will make it easier for steel plants to succeed, Feeney said. JMC Steel Group has supported the efforts of Brown and Ryan.
Brown, Ryan and McCall also spoke about efforts involving the RG Steel facility in Warren that has been closed since June.
The problem with the RG Steel site is it became victim of an issue of demographics involving the industry, McCall said. But since its closure, there has been an increase in the type of niche products made at the RG site.
“The current owner [C.J. Betters] has assured us he’s going to keep it in a hot-idle, preserved state so [the plant] could be used in the future,” he said.
There have been companies that have spoken to union officials about operating the plant, McCall said.
The expectation is the plant will operate again in the near future, he said.
Brown said he has met with Betters, and his office is examining every federal program possible that might be able to return the mill to operation.
“That plant has been open for 100 years, and it’s certainly been effective,” Ryan said. “It’s helped provide more than 1,000 families with middle-class lifestyles.”