South Carolina

Midlands firm gets exemption from Trump tariffs, won’t lay off workers, senator says

Element Electronics received a critical exemption Tuesday from tariffs levied by the Trump administration, eliminating the need for the Fairfield County company to lay off more than 100 workers, a state senator said.

The TV assembly company’s planned shutdown made national news in August after Element publicly blamed President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported Chinese parts for its decision to lay off about 126 workers in Fairfield.

But Element was not included on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s newly released tariffs list. The company has promised local officials it will not shut down if excluded from those tariffs, state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, told The State on Tuesday.

Fanning called it “the best news that Fairfield County has received in years.”

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s office confirmed the news.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes told The State the governor spoke with Element Chief Executive Mike O’Shaughnessy on Tuesday to congratulate him on his company’s victory.

“This is what the governor has been saying all along: ‘Be patient throughout this process,’ ” Symmes said. “What we’re seeing is the benefit of that patience combined with the (work) of Team S.C. This is tremendous news for Fairfield County and for Element.”

Element previously had been scheduled to start laying off workers by Oct. 5.

Fanning said Element and S.C. political leaders secured the tariff exclusion by “telling our story to the folks in Washington, D.C.”

The Democrat thanked McMaster; Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, a former congressman whose district included Fairfield; and the S.C. congressional delegation for fighting for the Fairfield jobs.

In a news statement Tuesday, state Rep. James Smith, the Democrat facing McMaster in November’s gubernatorial election, said he is happy Element got an exemption. But the Columbia attorney slammed Trump’s “job-killing” tariffs and McMaster for standing by them.

McMaster and other top S.C. Republicans have preached patience as Trump plays hardball on the international stage.

“South Carolina workers at this one plant have dodged a bullet, and that is some of the best news we’ve heard lately,” Smith wrote. “But the bullet should never have been aimed at them to begin with. Henry McMaster should still stand up against the tariffs themselves, which are aimed right at the heart of South Carolina’s economy.”

McMaster’s campaign declined to comment Tuesday evening, citing the governor’s suspension of his campaign as the state responds to Hurricane Florence.

Avery Wilks: 803-771-8362, @AveryGWilks; Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter
Related stories from Charlotte Observer