Element Electronics layoffs tariffs: Winnsboro TV assembly plant.

A television maker in Winnsboro that uses Chinese components for its assembly operation has announced that increased costs related to tariffs are forcing it to shut down.

In a letter Monday to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, the vice president for human resources at Element Electronics, Carl Kennedy, wrote that he hoped the shut-down would be temporary but that he could not predict this “with any certainty.”

In Winnsboro, county seat of rural Fairfield County (population 23,500), Element Electronics is among a handful of manufacturers surrounded by hundreds of acres of pine-tree farms, said Terry Vickers, head of the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.

Of the plant’s 134 workers, 126 will be sent home starting Oct. 5.

Element TV Layoffs Notice

“It’s a great company,” said Ty Davenport, director of economic development for Fairfield County. “They do a great job with their employees. It’s a happy place. They are in downtown Winnsboro. They help the local economy, so it’s a pretty big hit.”

A skeleton crew of about eight employees will remain at the facility, Kennedy wrote.

Impact of tariffs

Element Electronics imports all their parts, and several were already subject to import taxes, said Davenport, adding that Element was the only television maker in the United States.

“The parts that are being taxed, that have a tariff on them, there was a tariff on them already of 4.5 percent,” Davenport said.

Specifics about those parts were unavailable Tuesday as Element Electronics’ management could not be reached. But Kennedy, in his letter to the state, spelled out the issue:

“The layoff and closure is a result of the new tariffs that were recently and unexpectedly imposed on many goods imported form China, including the key television components used in our assembly operations in Winnsboro.”

On July 6, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on a range of Chinese raw materials and components worth $34 billion.

Among the hardest hit manufacturers in the Upstate was Anderson’s large Electrolux plant, which uses Chinese compressors to make refrigerators. The company, which employs 1,900 people in Anderson and makes about 2 million refrigerators a year, submitted a letter in May to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, voicing objections to the China tariffs.

Electrolux has said it will continue expansion plans in Anderson despite the tariffs, and other manufacturers such as Greenfield Industries in Seneca have said they have enough of a financial cushion to weather the tariffs.

But Element had been reduced to operating with a zero profit to stay afloat, Davenport said.

“When they put additional tariffs on the products that Element imports, that’s really what’s hurting them,” Davenport said.

TV plant seeks tariff exemptions

Davenport said he would be sitting down with the plant’s management team this week to talk about their strategy on getting out from under the tariffs.

“We are trying to meet with them to figure out exactly what’s going on,” Davenport said. “The layoff plan starts in October. It will go on until the end of the year. In the meantime, they will fight for an exemption on the parts they use to assemble the TVs.”

The process for exemptions has not been easy, with hangups in the approval process, objections raised and the lack of a rebuttal process, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Kris Denzel.

“We are hoping to get an exempt,” Davenport said “We are in touch with senators, the governor and all that.”


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