NEWBERRY — South Carolina and Samsung officials on Friday celebrated the first washing machines made at the company's first U.S. appliance manufacturing plant, even as the Trump administration eyes new tariffs on the South Korean manufacturer that Gov. Henry McMaster calls bad for the state and the country.
The event came less than seven months after officials announced plans to locate in Newberry, invest $380 million in a former Caterpillar factory and create 1,000 jobs by 2020. The plant already employs more than 540 workers — most of them local residents, according to Samsung.
The remodel involved adding more than 151,000 square feet and pouring concrete up to 20 feet thick to support the heavy machinery, said Tim Baxter, CEO of Samsung North America.
"This is what normally takes most companies 18 months to do, and we’re just getting started," Baxter said. "We're starting as a washing machine facility and creating an innovation hub. That's our dream."
Hyun Suk Kim, president of Samsung Electronics, called the high-tech plant one of the "best of the best factories in the world."
"Let's make sure nothing, nothing slows us down," he said.
That's exactly what the proposed tariffs would do, McMaster said after the official ribbon cutting.
American appliance giant Whirlpool has pressed the Trump administration to impose tariffs on large residential washing machines made by Korean manufacturers Samsung and LG, arguing that a surge in imports has harmed domestic producers. The U.S. International Trade Commission agreed with them in November, recommending a graduated tariff over the next three years.
McMaster, along with members of South Carolina's congressional delegation, is urging the administration to reject any tariff. The Republican governor said there's no timeline on a decision, but it's ultimately President Donald Trump's to make.
Among those giving speeches Friday, U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, whose district includes Newberry, was the only one to directly mention the issue from the podium.
"There is a competitor that wants to put a tariff on Samsung after the fact," he said, thanking officials who wrote letters to the administration "to say that isn't right."
"This is not a foreign company dumping or selling cheap goods under cost, but selling high-quality goods competing with everyone. They're building this company here," McMaster said. "This is a major investment and precisely what President Trump invited them to do."
The tariffs would slow down employment as well as the company's ability to ramp up to full production, he said.
"They will be limited on bringing their current inventory from Korea into the country. That would cut down on the money available to get this up and running at full speed," McMaster said. "That would hurt not only Newberry and South Carolina and Samsung but also would be a warning signal to other foreign investors who want to make a direct investment in this country. It would be bad for business and contrary to what President Trump is calling on everyone to do."
The debate offers a prime opportunity for McMaster to cash in on his early support for Trump. The Columbia Republican was the first statewide elected official to endorse Trump's presidential bid in 2016, a favor that Trump returned by endorsing McMaster's 2018 gubernatorial campaign last October.
At that fundraising event in Greenville, McMaster introduced Trump to top Samsung executives, and the president lauded the company for its television sets and washing machines.
Ian Steff, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Commerce Department, threw his agency's support behind the plant, pledging to do "whatever we can to ensure Samsung and your many suppliers stay strong."
"Anyone who questions the future of American manufacturing, I encourage them to come to Newberry and walk this plant. It's indicative of what's happening across the country," he said. "Manufacturing is making a comeback. ... You will have an innovation hub — a world-class innovation hub."