President-elect Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in, but hes already set the tone for how he will deal with companies as the nations chief executive.
After successfully pressuring furnace maker Carrier Corp. to keep hundreds of jobs in Indiana instead of leaving for Mexico, Trump wasted little time in fingering another manufacturer in Indianapolis, Rexnord Corp., about to move south of the border and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers.
Along the way, Trump issued a blanket warning that businesses shifting jobs abroad will soon be looking at tariffs of 35 percent, the same amount that he had threatened during the campaign that he would slap on Mexican imports. He spoke of 45 percent duties on Chinese goods.
Rhetoric aside, analysts reckon some companies now will think twice about moving. Why incur the risks of stiff penalties, damaging publicity and possibly even hectoring from the White House? Trump has said that companies thinking about leaving the U.S. will get a lot of phone calls, presumably from his new administration.
Trump has made protecting U.S. jobs his mantra, and analysts, investors and corporate chiefs are hoping that he will focus on cutting taxes, reducing government regulations and boosting infrastructure investments key planks in Trumps economic platform that should spur economic growth.
But what has many businesspeople nervous is this other, less predictable side of Trump, which suggests that as president he wont hesitate to take on individual companies and get personally involved in industrial policymaking the old-fashioned way: in backroom deal-making that has analysts concerned about crony capitalism.
Even Republicans in Congress have been watching warily as Trump has taken to Twitter to criticize Apple for its China-assembled iPhones and to rattle Boeings stock by complaining about the high cost of its possible contract to build the next Air Force One.
Short term, you might get an injection of jobs and enthusiasm, William Reinsch, a distinguished fellow at the nonpartisan Stimson Center, said of Trumps pledge to go after individual companies. But he said the benefits would probably amount to a drop in the bucket and may even make matters worse.
If Trump follows through on imposing tariffs on imports broadly, that would almost certainly raise prices for American consumers and cause significant problems for global production systems, eventually slowing corporate sales, investments and hiring.
We may assemble more stuff here, but well export less because theyll be more expensive, Reinsch said. Were going to be losing market share. Ultimately, the cost is jobs.
Trump will take the Oval Office amid a steadily growing job market, but manufacturing has been lagging. The sluggish global economy, strong dollar and political and financial uncertainties around the world have weighed on exports and industrial production.
Still, in other respects, manufacturing in the U.S. has stabilized. Factory employment stands at 12.3 million, which is down from more than 17 million in 2000 but up from 11.5 million at the end of 2009.
The long decline in U.S. manufacturing facilities the 70,000 factory closures that Trump often cited during the campaign hit bottom in 2013. Their numbers have since inched higher.
Although no one has precise figures, Harry Moser, an MIT-trained engineer who tracks job-flow trends, estimates that U.S. payroll losses to offshoring dropped to about 60,000 last year from roughly 230,000 a year in the early 2000s.
Should Trump put a tariff on companies that send jobs offshore this year or next, but not on those that went abroad years ago and reaped the benefits of cheap labor, Moser said, that would seem very unfair to me.
Almost everything that was imported was first made here, said Moser, who runs the Reshoring Initiative, a Chicago nonprofit that works with companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Mauro Guillen, an international management professor at the Wharton School, sees another hole in Trumps approach to keeping American plants humming with workers.
The problem is that jobs are being lost not just because of free trade. Theyre also being lost because of technological change, he said. Everything is so entangled all the different reasons why jobs are leaving.