Wisconsin construction seeing cost increases following steel and lumber tariffs

Global trade tensions increased Friday as $34 billion in new tariffs were imposed on Chinese goods.

Closer to home, an area construction company said the effects of steel tariffs imposed on June 1 are already noticeable, with supply costs jumping in the last six weeks.

Reaction to President Trump’s tariffs continue to pour in with Democrats like Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind criticizing their effect on manufacturing and construction.

"When you put a tariff on [steel], which is important for construction, that’s going to drive up the cost," Kind said. "It’s going to drive up the cost for infrastructure [and] for basic manufacturing businesses around here."

However, economists like Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute said concerning tariffs on the whole, it’s just a drop in the ocean.

"The cost is not going to be as large as some people think," Scott said. "$50 to 100 billion dollars worth of imports […] that’s a tiny fraction of the US economy."

La Crosse based Borton Construction, headed up by president Paul Borsheim, said steel and lumber prices are becoming a concern.

"Talking with our vendors, be it like a metal building supplier or metal roofing, they’ve seen two [or] three bumps just in the last six weeks," Borsheim said.

He said it may be fine if short lived but if not, future projects are going to be costly. 

"Obviously anytime there are trade conversations and changes that have happened, it has an impact and a ripple effect on us," La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Markussen said.

Meanwhile, a spike in lumber prices over the past 30 days is throwing a curve ball to Habitat for Humanity’s plans to expand their home building. Recently, Habitat launched a capital campaign to increase the number of homes they are able to build.

"We got the shells of our houses that we are building this year up before the prices went up," Habitat La Crosse’s Executive Director Kahya Fox said. "But, if this continues this way, these are some things we’re going to have to consider."

Area builders like Habitat and Borton said while it’s good the White House is looking to get better deals long term but in the mean time, the brunt of burdens to get there are falling on them.

On the international level, the European Union said import statistics show steel meant for the US is now flooding into their market as a result of tariffs and driving down prices. In response, the EU said they will take action to mitigate that increase through their own tariffs and quotas.

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