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A welder at Stoughton Trailers joins pieces of a metal chassis. The Stoughton-based company plans a major expansion in production and hiring in the wake of a new U.S. tariff on Chinese-made chassis systems.

EVANSVILLE

Stoughton Trailers expects a major upswing in production and a hiring spree to match after the U.S. government slapped a five-year tariff on semitrailer systems imported from Chinese manufacturers.

Stoughton Trailers CEO Bob Wahlin said the Stoughton-based company expects to upgrade manufacturing technology at its Evansville manufacturing plant and other locations and plans to hire as many as 300 assemblers, welders and supervisors in the coming months.

That’s amid a boom in new production contracts Wahlin said the semitrailer and trailer chassis maker has landed after the U.S. International Trade Commission in April approved a new tariff on Chinese-made trailer systems.

The company is calling the tariff an “enormous victory” a “major reshoring win” for Stoughton Trailers and other U.S. chassis manufacturers that have argued they’ve been in a chokehold through nearly 20 years of Chinese manufacturers dumping steel chassis systems in the U.S. market.

The International Trade Commission decided in a 5-0 decision April 13 that a major Chinese manufacturing company and the Chinese government since the early 2000s had “unfairly dumped and subsidized” imports of Chinese chassis in the U.S. market, a move the commission concluded has “injured” the U.S. chassis production industry, Stoughton Trailers announced.

Wahlin said the U.S. Department of Commerce has made a preliminary determination that Chinese producers were dumping chassis in the U.S. The federal government has imposed a 44% tariff designed to offset Chinese subsidies of Chinese-made chassis exported to the U.S.

The Commerce Department is expected to issue a final anti-dumping tariff order in mid-May.

Stoughton Trailers was among a consortium of U.S. chassis makers that banded together in a complaint to the trade commission against China and its subsidy of Chinese steel chassis maker China International Marine Containers, Wahlin said.

Wahlin said that in the early 2000s, about 40% of Stoughton Trailer’s business by volume was in manufacturing large, intermodal trailers—the 53-foot-long shipping trailers with built-in chassis that are often seen stacked on train cars.

By about 2005, Wahlin said, Chinese chassis dumping had “single-handedly” squeezed Stoughton Trailers completely out of production of large, 53-foot trailers.

He said the Chinese chokehold had led to a yearslong shutdown of Stoughton Trailers’ Evansville facility during the early 2010s, and it contributed to at least one wave of layoffs at Stoughton’s plants.

Wahlin said that as China used subsidies to boost its own domestic production of steel and export of steel goods, the U.S. market began to seeing an intensifying glut of Chinese chassis systems dumped here at costs so low that American producers, including Stoughton Trailers, could not compete.

“We were the classic U.S. manufacturer that was being squeezed out by Chinese manufacturing, in my opinion, for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t so much for profit on their end as it was to support the Chinese steel industry,” Wahlin said. “It was to build up their own workforce and squeeze out U.S. competition, and eventually monopolize that whole industry to then drive up prices later,” Wahlin said.

Wahlin said the trade remedy has allowed Stoughton Trailers to reclaim production of chassis to pair with large intermodal trailer systems on contract to companies who’d previously favored using Chinese imported chassis systems.

That in turn has Stoughton Trailers launching a wave of hiring for line workers, welders and supervisors.

Wahlin said the company so far this year has retooled production and shifted some workers from its Brodhead and Stoughton plants to the Evansville production facility. He indicated new hires will backfill the shifting of workers and serve projected growth at the Evansville plant and the chassis lines in Stoughton.

Projects also are underway now to bring some newer manufacturing technologies to Stoughton Trailers’ plants, Wahlin said.

Wahlin said the anti-dumping tariff is the most important trade remedy his industry has seen in recent years.

“We are at a point where business has come back to us manufacturers and we have protection from the U.S. government for at least five years so they can’t dump future product,” Wahlin said. “That allows us a larger runway to build this business, to build a workforce, and to have a reliable supply of product available.”

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