Trump's trade war might close down America's largest nail factory — but workers remain diehard Trump fans

"It’s like he’s turned the lights off now. And it’s all because of the tariffs.”
A skilled machinist works at Mid Continent Nail Factory in Missouri. He is one of 500 employees who are anxious about the stability of their job.
A skilled machinist works at Mid Continent Nail Factory in Missouri. He is one of 500 employees who are anxious about the stability of their job.Vaughn Hillyard / NBC News

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Maura Barrett and Vaughn Hillyard

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — President Donald Trump has vowed to bring back American jobs, but three months since making his first move to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, his trade policies have cost 60 employees their positions at the country's largest nail manufacturing plant.

For 29 years, Chris Pratt has worked the floors of the Mid Continent Nail Factory, a business started in 1987 in this town of 17,000 people. He is now the operations manager and oversees 500 employees. But this month, he eliminated 60 positions at the factory after a 50 percent drop in nail orders following Trump’s June 1 announcement of a 25 percent tariff on all steel imports from Mexico, the source of the company’s raw material.

“The economy is thriving, the home building business is thriving — so we should be doing well in turn,” Pratt told NBC News. “But it’s like he’s turned the lights off now. And it’s all because of the tariffs.”

Before this month’s layoffs, the company had doubled its workforce since 2012. But Mid Continent had to increase the price of its products to offset the cost of the tariffs. Many of the company's customers immediately canceled their orders, since they could purchase nails at a lower price from international markets like China or Taiwan.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Pratt would like Trump to grant the company exclusions from the steel import tariffs — in which case Mid Continent would be able to re-employ the 60 workers laid off. If not, the other 500 workers’ jobs are at stake.

“A lot of people would be in trouble,” said Diane Brogdon, who has worked on the assembly line at the factory for 12 years. “I don’t have a clue where we would turn for another job. It’s always been a reliable job, and it’s the reason I have the house I just bought and that I can support my daughters and two grandchildren.”

Mid Continent also makes wire coil, plastic strip and, until two weeks ago, paper tape strip nails. Just seven months after opening its new paper tape plant, the machines now stand idle, shutting down alongside the layoffs. Next door, a warehouse stands full of boxes of nails. There are no interested buyers.

About an hour north in Cape Girardeau, SEMO Boxing has also had to lay off workers as a direct result of Mid Continent’s cuts. Because of the mass scale back in nail production, there is a lower demand for their typical order of boxes.

Brogdon voted for Trump and hopes the president will get a better deal for the American worker. But she noted, “He wants to make America great, but he has to remember that we have jobs here that we need to keep. He’s fighting in Washington D.C. for us, but we’re fighting just to be able to live here in Poplar Bluff.”

Jimmie Coffer has worked as a skilled machinist in Mid Continent’s shop for five years. He describes his line of work as “more than just a job.”

Chris Pratt has worked at the Mid Continent Nail Factory for 29 years. As operations manager, he oversees all 500 employees and feels personally responsible for these jobs.Vaughn Hillyard / NBC News

“I come here every day and I do what I love,” he said. “These people here are my brothers and sisters.”

Although Coffer is fearful that his own job and those of his co-workers could all be at risk, he continues to support the Trump administration’s efforts.

“I know what affects me, and the tariffs are hurting me on a daily basis — I’d like to see relief,” Coffer told NBC News. “I still have faith in the president. I believe he knows what he’s doing and can turn everything around for us.”

Pratt’s message to the administration: “Save our jobs. Give us the exclusions we’ve applied for. Put us back to work. Save Poplar Bluff jobs, and in turn, American jobs.”