Whirlpool stock falls as Upton talks tariffs with SW Michigan business leaders

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WNDU) - This week began much like last week ended — with a lot of tariff-related tension in the air.

Whirlpool stock had dropped $6 a share by the time some southwest Michigan business leaders gathered Monday to talk tariffs at a roundtable meeting called by their congressman.

“We can’t run our business on the short term. We can’t try and speculate what’s going to happen over the next 60 or 90 days relative to trade, so what we do is we need to sit tight, be patient and understand what are the ultimate outcomes,” said Jeff Noel, vice president of communications and public affairs for Whirlpool.

”When you look at the market drop today, it was 575 when I entered. I think there’s a lot of companies whose stock dropped pretty dramatically because of these tariffs, and it ought to send, I hope, the signal to all of those, China as well as here, let’s get an agreement,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan’s 6th District. “Let’s get off the dime and start talking again so that we can get an agreement and watch these tariffs, rather than go up and really have a trade war, to have a cease-fire.”

Last week, negotiators for the U.S. and China stopped talking about a new trade agreement and started imposing new tariffs on one another.

“We work with the manufacturers, and in southwest Michigan, there's over about 450 manufacturing firms, about 18,000 people working in manufacturing, so it's an important industry,” said Todd Gustafson, president and CEO of Kinexus Group. “What they're looking for is some certainty and a level playing field in the market.”

Suddenly, certainty is hard to find. One leader said his business has weathered a lot of storms in its 100-year existence, but tariffs could have unintended consequences, making it impossible to continue to manufacture here.

“The argument has been the longer these tariffs last, particularly on steel and aluminum, the more incentive there will be for us to move those jobs overseas. We don't want that to happen,” Upton said. “So, at some point, we need certainty in the process, and these temporary tariffs, we hope will be just that, temporary.”

While the dispute with China seems to be making all the headlines, another businessman said quality requirements dictate that he buy steel from Europe, which is subject to tariffs.

“If they made those parts overseas, they wouldn’t have the tariff on those manufactured products that would then come here,” Upton said.

Monday's roundtable was originally scheduled to discuss a new trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, but given the situation, the discussion was dominated by tariffs.