‘We’re All Just in Limbo:’ 3 Florida Business Owners Feeling the Heat of Tariffs

Jul 13, 2018 - 11:45am

Senior Editor, Strategic Communications

For Gary Nichols, a fisherman in the Florida Keys for more than 30 years, the timing of a trade war couldn’t be much worse. There are just a few weeks to go before the start of the lobster season, and thousands of traps waiting to be loaded on boats and dropped in the water. And now exports to China, one of the industry’s most important new markets, are about to get a lot more expensive.

“It’s starting to get a little scary,” Nichols told southwest Florida’s Wink News.

The same could be said for a number of businesses owners across the state, suffering from the early blows in the international dispute. Businesses all over Florida are feeling the stress, with more than $2.2 billion in Florida’s exports vulnerable due to the emerging trade war. Many of the nearly 2.5 million residents whose jobs depend on international trade could be impacted. They are the collateral damage. And the harm is about to get much worse.

The news of retaliatory tariffs has already begun to take effect. From manufacturing to agriculture, business owners are coping with the changes to come. For small businesses, there are no winners. Here are three business already hurting in Florida.

1. Gary Nichols, a Fishermen in the Florida Keys

Nine years ago he remembers when the price of lobster fell to $3 a pound, and Nichols nearly lost everything. Then came rising demand from the Chinese market, which helped save the commercial fishing industry in the Keys and Nichols’ business. Nichols was one of the first to figure out how to ship live lobsters to China, and it helped save the commercial fishing industry in the Keys.

But now, tucked into a recent round of retaliatory tariffs is a 25% tariff by China on American lobsters. The latest salvo in the trade war threatens everything he’s worked toward.

“We’ve been very fortunate over the last several years with the Chinese market,” he told the paper. “At this moment I don’t know what is going to happen, we’re all just in limbo.”

2. Flying Dragon Citrus Nursery in Jacksonville, FL

Michael Barwald, owner of Flying Dragon Citrus Nursery in Jacksonville fears any hike on any American citrus product could see prices rise across the industry, he told ABC News.

Oranges, the quintessential Florida product, appear on the list of retaliatory tariffs published by the Chinese government.

This comes as Florida’s citrus industry is coming off its worst growing season since World War II, as hurricanes battered the state, severely damaging production. And, with more than 12 million gallons of orange juice sent overseas annually, the industry is bracing itself for more shockwaves.

"I don't think anybody wins in a tariff war,” Barnwald said.

3. Correct Craft in Orlando, FL

Before tariffs, Bill Yeargin, CEO of Correct Craft and a boat builder in Orlando, was planning to hire 50 additional workers to build more boats.

Now?

"There's a good chance that we won't," Yeargin told NPR.

In the latest throes of the trade skirmish, Correct Craft is getting hit twice. Bill Yeargin is not only facing higher prices on one of his key manufacturing materials, aluminum – which are up 50% domestically because of tariffs – but retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, Canada and the EU target boats like his, he told NPR.

The business, which prides itself on unique, American-made products, has built six factories across the U.S. to step up distribution overseas where their market has grown.

But more than 70% of his international exports are sold to Canada, Mexico and Europe. And the retaliatory tariffs from those countries are making Correct Craft’s products more expensive at a time when it costs even more to make them. And he's already lost orders from dealers in those countries.

“It is scary on the front lines,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Sun Sentinel. “The situation is made worse by the uncertainty suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers feel, which tends to further freeze markets.”

About the Author

About the Author

Cordell Eddings
Senior Editor, Strategic Communications

Cordell is a senior editor and content strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team.