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.”
Pushing to rewrite his predecessors’ free-trade approach, Mr. Trump has reopened the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, threatened tariffs and quotas on steel imports, moved to revise a trade agreement with South Korea and signaled his support of American businesses by declaring a “Made in America” Week. A trade case accusing China of intellectual property violations is also in the works.
At the same time, the president has cited the jobs foreign businesses can bring, announcing at the White House recently that the Taiwanese electronics supplier Foxconn would create at least 3,000 jobs with the help of hefty tax credits at a new plant planned for Wisconsin. And after two Japanese carmakers announced on Friday a joint decision to build an assembly plant, he tweeted: “Toyota & Mazda to build a new $1.6B plant here in the U.S.A. and create 4K new American jobs. A great investment in American manufacturing!”
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.
The parts are made in the…