Coatesville, PA – Once dubbed the “Pittsburgh of the East,” this picturesque town of 13,000 once had a booming steel industry that employed as many as 8,000 Americans. The massive plant that looms over the two is the U.S.’s longest continuously operating steel mill. Opened in 1810, the steel mill produced the 152 nine-story fork-shaped supports that formed the base of the original World Trade Center – many of which remained standing when the towers fell on September 11. The mill also makes nuclear-submarine parts and mine-resistant armor for military vehicles that protects our troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. But today, the plant is badly diminished. Thanks to the Obama administration, China was allowed to flood the U.S. with cheap steel, decimating towns like Coatesville and NAFTA put the final nail in Coatesville’s coffin. The steel mill that once formed the core of this quintessentially Pennsylvanian town is now a shadow of its former sell, employing just a fraction of the 8,000 Americans that it once provided for.
But not all hope is lost. Thanks to President Donald Trump, towns like Coatesville may have a second lease of life. According to Bill MacCauley, owner of the John Rock Inc. pallet factory in Coatesville,
“There’s plenty of jobs. Our biggest challenge is labor.”
Business is booming for MacCauley who adds,
“Pallets are a better barometer of the economy than anything else. Everything in this country moves on a pallet.”
MacCauley, who grew up on a farm, was working as the plant manager in 1997 when John Rock Inc.’s founder decided to retire. Since taking over the business, MacCauley has modernized it, expanded it and commissioned new nailing and sawing machines, doubling the factory’s original footprint. Today, MacCauley’s plant nails out 20,000 pallets a day from Coatesville – a feat he thanks President Trump for. According to MacCauley, business has been gangbusters since President Trump took office over a year ago. Since the passage of corporate tax cuts in December, MacCauley has dramatically increased his capital investments in his Coatesville plant. He has $2 million worth of new “Made-in-America” machinery scheduled to arrive in the next three months, purchases he says he wouldn’t have made now if not for President Trump’s tax cuts.
With unemployment down to 4.1 percent, companies across the U.S. are scrambling to find workers, driving wages up and forcing recruiters to get creative. John Rock Inc. is no exception. Pay starts at $11 an hour, with full benefits and a 401(k). MacCauley has raised wages by $1 over the past year, in part to compete with landscaping jobs which have soared. As more Americans head back to work and with more disposable income, the demand for landscapers has also risen as people spend more time and money on their lawns. The job market is so tight that MacCauley has started recruiting women for what has typically been men’s work. MacCauley is quick to credit President Trump,
“Whether you like Trump or not, the fact remains – everybody’s doing better than they were a year ago.”
“We’re probably going to look back at this as one of the biggest booms in our lifetime.”
In the first year of the Trump administration, President Trump has already added 200,000 manufacturing jobs to the American economy, compared with only 360,000 manufacturing jobs that Obama added for all four years of his second term.
And there may yet be hope for Coatesville’s disenfranchised steel workers as well. At Coatesville’s Little Chef Family Restaurant, 64-year-old John Gathercole sits at the lunch counter with a cup of coffee, talking about how President Trump will bring back steel jobs. Gathercole spent 29 years cutting heavy steel, retiring two years before the worst of Obama’s policies forced the plant to close and laid off the remaining workers. Gathercole, smooths back his thick gray hair and wears a gold chain under his Under Armour shirt,
“I’m a big union man, always will be.”
Gathercole, who has been a lifelong Democrat, cast his first vote for a Republican candidate in 2016,
“I don’t know how Trump is on unions. I like him because he was change.”
Gathercole knows that it will take time to reinvigorate the steel industry in Coatesville. With Congress blocking the President at every corner and the logjam that is Washington, Gathercole knows that President Trump will keep his promises, but he also recognizes that it will take time.
“He’s (the President) got to navigate the minefield that is Washington as well. It’s not like at the Trump Organization where every word he says becomes law. But I know he hasn’t forgotten places like Coatesville and I know that he will bring life back to this town.”
Just 30 miles up the road, sentiments are similar in the once vibrant manufacturing hub of Reading. The city’s garment factory is now an outlet mall, filled with Chinese tourists who put the garment factory out of business to begin with. Reading also has one of the highest urban poverty rates in the U.S. at 39 percent. Over at the indoor farmer’s market, a voluble man with curly gray hair in a Snap-on tools jacket is confident that President Trump will deliver for Reading as well,
“Trump is going to revisit NAFTA and take a hard line with China.”
Already, President Trump’s election has had an enormous impact on him and his family. His wife is a United Automobile Workers union member and both his sons work at a steel-alloy plant and according to the man, who requested anonymity for fear of attack by Trump critics,
“They’ve been busy as heck since Trump got in.”
The man’s sentiments are echoed by 61-year-old Todd Hiester. Hiester was 19 when his father got him a job at the Dana auto-parts plant, a job he held till the company went bankrupt in 2000, just 3 months before Hiester would have been eligible for a pension. Hiester says he voted for Trump for a host of reasons – because of the need for Christian values on the Supreme Court, because illegal aliens are living off government benefits and because of Hillary Clinton’s stance on globalization and trade. According to Hiester,
“I think his (President Trump’s) intentions are good. His heart is very good.”
Hiester is confident that President Trump is doing his best to fight for the working man and he says that even the President’s critics have to admit that he’s not like all those other politicians. “At least,” Hister says of President Trump, “he doesn’t lie.”
In hollowed-out manufacturing towns all across the country, President Donald Trump is spoken of with a godlike reverence and it is this faith that the President will deliver that will ultimately ensure the success of towns like Reading and Coatesville. Where once there was despondency, President Trump has brought hope. Instead of bankruptcy and bureaucracy, President Trump is giving these forgotten Americans the possibility of recapturing the lives they once had and providing them with the opportunity for their children to experience the same.