Tariffs ordered by President Donald Trump could “cripple” the giant new fiberglass manufacturing plant being built in Richland County, according to exclusion requests sent by the company’s lawyers to the U.S. Trade Representative.
At more than $400 million, the China Jushi USA plant being built in the new Pineview Industrial Park is the largest economic development project in Richland County since Union Camp in the early 1980s. The factory at 800,000 square feet is the largest under one roof in the county, and one of the largest in the state, dwarfing the 584,000-square-foot Boeing Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.
The plant — the company’s first in the U.S. — will weigh in at 1.6 million square feet when and if a second phase is built.
Jushi expects the first 80,000-ton production line to begin rolling next month. Company officials are presently hiring 400 workers for the first plant. A second plant would be identical and also employ 400 workers.
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However, the “tariffs will have a crippling effect on Jushi’s ability to build and operate its production lines,” said the exclusion request sent by the company’s Washington D.C.-based law firm, Morgan Lewis, to trade representative Robert Lighthizer
Lighthizer was recently named by Trump as the lead negotiator of a new trade agreement with China.
Columbia-based Jushi CEO William Woo, contacted Tuesday, declined comment, except to say, “We’re just trying to exclude (the company) from the additional tariffs.”
The company’s request involves equipment for the plant that Jushi plans to import from China. Attorneys for the company argue the addition of a 25 percent ad valorem duty to the more than $11 million cost of nine pieces of equipment needed to outfit the plant will increase the overall costs of doing business, threatening employment levels and perhaps the second line.
“While the impact on Jushi’s operations will be great, the impact on South Carolina will be even greater,” the exclusion request states. “The Company’s plan to add almost 1,000 new jobs will be adversely affected. And in an ironic twist, if the Jushi production lines are not built (or during any period of delay), the net result will be continued imports of these fiberglass products from China.
“Application of the tariffs to these means of production would have the exact opposite impact of the desired and intended effect of the administration’s trade policy goal to bring back domestic manufacturing jobs,” it says.
Jushi attorney Kenneth Nunnenkamp told The State that unlike grain or steel, these pieces of machinery — an industrial oven, screw pumps, stacker machine, etc. — are “one-off” purchases that should be excluded.
“This is a somewhat unique situation in that they are not looking to import large qualities (of materials or items) on an ongoing basis, but just need these nine items to build a factory.”
The exclusion request also has the backing of the S.C. Department of Commerce, whose boss, Gov. Henry McMaster, is a loyal Trump supporter.
“Granting the exclusions will avoid unintended harm to our state and achieve trade objectives,” Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt wrote to Lighthizer. “The new jobs and taxable investment that China Jushi has and will provide in Richland County, South Carolina, are critical to our local and state economy.”
Jushi is a Chinese company, and the name means “giant stone,” the foundation of heaven and earth. Founded 25 years ago, the company is headquartered in Zhejiang, China. It is the largest fiberglass manufacturer in the world.
It has five factories in China, Egypt and now Richland County. And it’s growing like crazy, with new plants planned for Turkey and India.
The Pineview plant will be the company’s first production facility in the United States and will exclusively produce fiberglass rovings and chopped glass fiber for thermoplastics.
Workers are putting the final touches on the building before they start rolling in equipment. They held a ceremony two months ago to install the first brick in the main furnace, and hope to start spinning out fiberglass in the first quarter of next year.
And even though it’s a big building, the manufacturing process is simple. Sand, clay and chemicals are mixed together and dumped into a huge brick and platinum furnace, which makes glass.
The glass then passes through sieves and is cooled and coated into thread-like fibers, which are rolled or chopped. The material is then used to make everything from car engines and windmills to jet skis, oil platforms and broom handles.