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Fact check: Are steel and auto companies investing big in the U.S.?

2018-11-30

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President Donald Trump on Thursday sought to contrast General Motors, which he rebuked this week after the automaker announced plans to lay off thousands of U.S. workers as part of a broad restructuring move, with American steelmakers and other car makers. "Big Steel is opening and renovating plants all over the country," while "auto companies are pouring into the U.S.," he said in a tweet cheering the country's strong economic growth of late. So is Mr. Trump correct? 

Steel: Mostly false

One steel company has disclosed plans to build a new plant in the U.S. Steel Dynamics this week said it's planning a new flat-rolled steel plant somewhere in the Southwest, with construction expected to start in 2020 and to start operating by the end of 2021. The facility will employ about 600 people and serve "southern U.S. energy and construction sectors, which consume considerable amounts of flat roll steel products." The factory will also make products geared to auto manufacturers and appliance makers. 

U.S. Steel earlier this year announced plans to restart its Granite City blast furnace. In a conference call with investors to discuss third-quarter earnings earlier this month, U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt told investors the company has "plenty" of existing capacity to handle demand, suggesting it has no need to open a new domestic plant.

"We believe that this administration is going to stay true to creating this fair trade environment. So we're comfortable with where we are," Burritt said, according to a transcript. "We're focused on revitalization of assets and making sure that we carry through that program and making sure that these assets are as productive as possible. As far as adding a bunch of capacity -- that's not going to happen." In August, U.S. Steel also said it was upgrading its Gary, Indiana plant.

Through October, the U.S. imported more than 13 percent less steel compared with a year ago, while Europe has imported more than 10 percent for a record high, according to the Wall Street Journal , citing the European Steel Association.

As of October, there were roughly 382,000 U.S. jobs in the manufacturing of primary metals such as steel, down from 622,000 jobs in 2000. Construction spending on factories has yet to significantly take off after having fallen between 2016 and much of 2018.

Autos: Mostly false

Since Tuesday, Mr. Trump has vented his anger at GM after the company announced plant closings in the U.S. and Canada, at a cost of more than 14,000 jobs. The president also threatened to eliminate tax credits awarded to consumers who buy the company's electric vehicles, as well as other tax breaks and subsidies.

Germany's BMW has a plant in South Carolina with 10,000 employees. It previously announced plans to build an additional 50,000 to 450,000 vehicles a year at the facility. The ability to make more components in the U.S. would help BMW address local content rules, according to Bloomberg. Currently, the automaker imports engines and transmissions from Europe for SUVs made in the U.S., and it's building a new factory in Mexico.  

German brands dominate the U.S. luxury auto market and account for tens of thousands of U.S. jobs at assembly plants alone, mostly in the U.S. South. BMW hasn't announced a new U.S. plant, but Chairman Harald Kruger did tell reporters at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week that the company is exploring whether to build an engine plant in the U.S. to support its North American operations, according to reports. 

In January, Toyota and Mazda said they would join forces to build a $1.6 billion plant in Alabama that will eventually employ up to 4,000 workers. Volvo is opening a plant in South Carolina, but those plans date to 2015.  

Federal labor data show automakers added nearly 31,000 jobs during President Barack Obama's last year in office. That fell to 8,200 in 2017 after Trump became president. Before the GM layoffs, automakers were on pace to add roughly 9,000 jobs this year.

Auto companies employ far fewer workers than they did in 2000. More than 1.3 million people held auto jobs in 2000, compared with roughly 970,000 today.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has threatened to slap heavy tariffs on cars and auto parts imported into the U.S. Some experts fear that could cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and raise U.S. auto prices by roughly 10 percent.

Source: The Associated Press

  
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