How tariffs have helped a struggling manufacturer in Maine

While many businesses bemoan tariffs, Aurburn Manufacturing is thriving
Posted at 4:16 PM, Nov 15, 2019

President Donald Trump imposed sweeping tariffs on China for its trade practice. Some manufacturers say the tariffs are hurting U.S. business — but not all of them.

In Auburn, Maine, you’ll find Auburn Manufacturing. It’s been there for 40 years.

Kathie Leonard's made-in the-U.S.A. company specializes in a certain type of product.

“Our focus was always supplying industrial markets with heat-resistant fabrics,” says Leonard, the president and CEO of Auburn Manufacturing. “Some of our first customers were plants and refineries. We supply the Navy with their fabrics for their welding protection when it comes to ship repair. There’s a lot of that that goes on every day in this country.”

According to Leonard, the company has grown a lot over 40 years. They occupy 100,000 square-feet in two plants and their two employees have turned into 52 workers.

But for nearly two decades, Leonard’s company was hurting.

She says state-subsidized Chinese textiles imported to the U.S. were eroding her company’s market share, causing Auburn Manufacturing to lose about 30 percent of their market share in the United States.

“Primarily in China, they are experts at being able to make products that look like yours,” Leonard says. “We identified 80 companies that were represented online as being manufacturers. Turns out there were only three or four that actually manufactured the products.

“We were losing a lot of business to defense contractor who thought they were buying American products because they were buying Chinese products through an American distributor,” Leonard says.

The Trump administration slapped tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese products as of September, first as an effort to take China to task over its trading practice — particularly the theft of intellectual property.

And because of that, Leonard says her company is benefiting.

“We’re seeing an upsurge in demand for our products because they can’t get the Chinese products at those steep discounts that they were able to previously.

“The tariffs have an added benefit of waking up the American industrial sector that they need to look at that — where they’re buying products, where they’re having them made,” Leonard says.

While negotiations are still ongoing between China and the U.S., Leonard hopes the country can find some balance so her company, and many others in the U.S., can keep thriving.

“We should start seeing a resurgence in investment in industrial facilities,” she says.