Manufacturing leaders in New Jersey are expressing increasing concern about federal tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products.

John Kennedy, the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said certain types of steel used by numerous companies in the Garden State are no longer manufactured in the United States, and the cost increases from tariffs are threatening to put some of these companies out of business.

He said efforts are needed to get these firms exemptions from the tariffs as quickly as possible.

“I think that our state Legislature, including our manufacturing caucus, should communicate with our federal lawmakers,” said Kennedy. “They should look at how they can they work together to help ease the issue by getting exemptions — reasonable, honest exemptions — to the tariffs through the process.”

Kennedy is advising caution when it comes to raising New Jersey’s minimum wage.

“It would be I think disastrous to immediately raise the minimum wage to $15.”

Right now the minimum hourly wage in New Jersey is $8.60.

Gov. Phil Murphy continues to prod lawmakers on the issue, recently stating in order to achieve a stronger and fairer New Jersey, “high on the unfinished business list is the minimum wage.”

Kennedy said many sectors in Jersey could be adversely affected by a dramatic minimum wage hike, including health care and restaurants. Manufacturing would be affected because profit margins "are not huge" and companies here are competing with other states and countries.

“Pennsylvania doesn’t have a $15 minimum wage, so how are we going to compete with their companies that can undercut our prices?” he said.

He said many manufacturing jobs start at $12 a hour, plus benefits.

Starting people at a significantly higher minimum wage would cause a ripple of problems with other workers, he said.

“Those making $15 will want $18. Those making $18 will want $22 and you basically destroy businesses," he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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