Street Talk

Street Talk: Tariffs offset tax gains

Go with the flow.

April 20, 2018
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West Michigan’s two largest furniture manufacturers are keeping an eye on the impact of steel tariffs on their bottom line.

Jim Keane, president and CEO of Grand Rapids-based Steelcase, said “virtually all” the steel the company buys is from U.S. sources and thus would not be subject to the tariffs President Donald Trump enacted March 23 on steel and aluminum imports from countries such as Switzerland, Japan, Turkey, Russia and China.

But paying tariffs on the few materials not available through U.S. suppliers is having “a negative financial impact on our raw material spending,” Keane said.

In general, he added, the policy has had “negative and unintended consequences” on U.S. companies.

The people in other parts of the world buying our steel don’t pay any tariffs,” he said. “For those of us who have supported the steel industry, we are suddenly at a competitive disadvantage. We will adapt and compete and do what we can. I’m hoping we can help the federal government find a more elegant solution.”

Steelcase has been making “direct appeals to elected officials” about the tariffs for the past year since the U.S. Department of Commerce first began considering them, and the company has long sought a permanent waiver from paying tariffs in some instances.

“We have been fighting to protect a particular type of steel used in our PolyVision products for more than two years — and won an exclusion from tariffs last year,” Keane said. “We will again seek an exclusion for this steel to ensure we can protect our business.”

More than 1,200 companies have applied for waivers from the tariffs so far, according to a Washington Post report April 16.

Brian Walker, president and CEO of Zeeland-based Herman Miller, echoed Keane’s concerns.

We generally are buying steel and aluminum local from the market where we’re producing the goods. The problem is (the tariffs have) incented the U.S. steel industry to raise prices. Prices are rising at a pace that will require us and everybody in the industry to pass on the cost to consumers because it’s too great to absorb with profitability.”

He noted if the Trump administration was hoping to take a pro-business stance with corporate tax reform, the tariffs threw a monkey wrench into the works.

“It’s got the potential that it’s an offset to the work done around taxes,” he said. “The tax cut was a boon … but those two things offset each other, so that’s not good for us or anybody else.”

Hear them roar

The John Ball Zoo is calling on the Michigan Legislature to approve an amendment to the Large Carnivore Act. The amendment provides a strong regulatory framework for the breeding of large carnivores to promote conservation, safety and a uniform set of standards and oversight.

“Conservation breeding programs ensure the preservation of endangered species and large carnivores, including tigers, bears and lions. We urge the House to approve this legislation to provide a strong regulatory framework that promotes the responsible breeding of large carnivores in the state,” said Peter D’Arienzo, John Ball Zoo CEO. “Changes in the new legislation will ensure high-quality animal care and improve public safety. This framework also will provide high standards modeled on best practices, federal regulations and standards provided by leading accredited organizations.”

The Large Carnivore Act will ensure all zoos — public or private — maintain high standards and meet specific criteria to breed large carnivores in Michigan. Similar legislation passed in the Senate by a bipartisan group of elected leaders in December 2016 and then lost momentum. Supporters of this legislation include zoos across the state of Michigan, accredited organizations, elected officials and others.

“I strongly urge our elected officials to pass this legislation so we can ensure all wildlife, including large carnivores, can be preserved for future generations. The current act limits our Michigan zoos from fully participating in important species survival programs,” said Harold Voorhees, Kent County commissioner and former state representative.

The breeding of large carnivores in Michigan currently is illegal under the Large Carnivore Act due to an unintentional drafting error that was codified into Michigan law, D’Arienzo said. In 2017, John Ball Zoo relocated its male tigers to other zoos out of state because it could not legally breed them in Michigan. The move was required to help preserve the species for the future, zoo officials said.

Rape rescuers

One of the Michigan Women’s Foundation’s tenets is to “identify and assess issues that disproportionately affect women and girls and develop a collective change agenda to ensure that social and economic equality is a reality in Michigan.”

Last week’s 2018 Women of Achievement and Courage Award luncheon (congratulations to Meijer’s Stacie Behler!) certainly hit that mark.

In her opening remarks, CEO Carolyn Cassin mentioned MWF’s work to ensure the huge backlog of rape kits stored in Detroit warehouses were processed and the results were turned over to law enforcement.

To date, MWF has helped 11,341 kits get shipped to the labs for testing, according to MWF Executive Director Judy Welch, and the results are impressive. “One-hundred-thirty men are in jail as a result of this work and we know these men assaulted at least 380 women,” Welch said.

The efforts struck a chord with luncheon attendees, too. Welch said late last week MWF has secured another $13,000 in donations to fund the program.

River dance

River for All had the opportunity in January to gather feedback from the Anishinaabe about its hopes for the Grand River restoration project, and the efforts of the city of Grand Rapids and private partners to engage the native community has gained the approval of a local artist.

Jason Quigno, a Grand Rapids sculptor and member of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of the Anishinaabe, said he was pleased to see the city considering ideas put forth by the native residents.

“I really hope that they take some of the native communities’ ideas and implement them in some of the sitting areas along the river,” he said. “I know it will be for everybody, but it’s the history of who was here first.”

Quigno said he has reached out to city officials to possibly take part in the river restoration effort but hasn’t gotten a response yet. His involvement in the river restoration also will depend on his own workload, but he’s willing to take part in any way possible.

“I’m pretty busy doing my own work,” he said. “If they tap me for something I might want along the river, or even if they want some consulting, I’d give them some advice.”

Quigno’s works have been featured at multiple ArtPrize events. His sculpture, Three Sisters, was displayed during ArtPrize Nine in 2017. The piece is based on the Iroquois legend of the three “sisters,” or staple crops corn, beans and squash, which are the sustainers of life.

He is currently working on a sculpture for the city of Muskegon based on the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe: respect, love, truth, bravery, wisdom, generosity and humility.

“I would say my main inspiration is telling the stories on my people,” he said, “even just doing the work, too. I love the process of taking a raw piece of stone and turning it into a balanced, harmonious object.”

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