U.S. Cities Welcome a Foreign Product: Jobs

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In Chattanooga and the surrounding region, for example, more than two dozen companies from 20 countries have set up shop, generating billions of dollars in investment, employing thousands of workers and helping drive Tennessee’s jobless rate to 3.6 percent in June, a record low for the state.

But political and business leaders here in Hamilton County, a conservative stronghold where Donald J. Trump won a majority of the votes, worry that the president’s attacks on trading partners and exhortations to “Buy American” could set off a protectionist spiral of tariffs and import restrictions, hurting consumers and workers.

“I’m nervous,” Mayor Andy Berke said over sweet tea and French toast at the Bluegrass Grill on Main Street.

Mr. Berke will travel to Japan this fall in hopes of persuading more companies to hang a shingle at the foot of the Appalachians. “Trade and foreign investment is a big part of Tennessee’s portfolio, and it affects many people in our area,” he said. “And I don’t know exactly what the policies will be.”

. . .

For employers and workers here, though, the labels can be confusing. “There is no such thing as just ‘American built’ anymore,” said Randy Topping, who owns a tractor and equipment dealership in Chattanooga

He saw his business explode in 2010, thanks in part to growing sales of vehicles made by the Indian manufacturer Mahindra. Mr. Topping is now teamed up with the company and is president of Southeast Mahindra, where nearly 60 people assemble and distribute small red tractors suited to gentleman farmers.

. . .

For other firms, the decision to set up manufacturing in the United States has much less to do with who is in the White House than who will buy their product. Nokian Tyres, a Finnish company that is preparing to break ground on a $360 million plant with 400 jobs, can grow only if it has a local presence, said Tommi Heinonen, head of Nokian North America.

“When we started the project, there was a different administration, and it will be different again,” Mr. Heinonen said, noting that the company started scouting American locations in 2015. “The factory is built to be there for decades. If you start to change your corporate strategy every time there is a new person in some chair, you end up changing it quite often.”

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