LAS VEGAS — Figuring out what a Donald Trump presidency means for the manufacturing industry before the Manhattan billionaire even takes the oath of office isn’t easy, but Fabtech organizers assembled a panel of experts to try.

The Nov. 16, 2016, session was held only a week after Trump had won his upset victory returning a Republican to the White House for the first time since 2008. Fabtech, a large metal forming and fabricating show that took place Nov. 16-18 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, counts a large number of U.S. and international manufacturing companies as among its members and exhibitors. 

Organizers brought Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence; Ned Monroe, senior vice president of external relations for the National Association of Manufacturers; Omar S. Nashashibi of the Franklin Partnership; and moderator William Gaskin, president of the Precision Metalforming Association to discuss what a Trump administration might do – or not – for U.S. manufacturers.

At this point, it’s hard to tell, the panelists said.

“There’s a long way to go to see what’s actually going to happen,” Monroe said.

Kuehl agreed.

“With each election, there are winners and losers,” Kuehl said. “You’ll probably see a mixed bag when it comes to manufacturing.”

Sectors of the economy such as energy production are expected to benefit in the Trump presidency, with a renewed interest in coal and nuclear, he said. With the president-elect’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — the health care sector is likely to see changes, Kuehl said. 

And with Trump’s belief that interest rates are too low, you’ll likely see them start to increase. With that comes inflation. That may make the industry job shortage worse.

"You can’t find the people that you need. And you’re paying the people that you do find more,” he said.

With a promise to overhaul many of the Obama administration’s regulations, the panel agreed that some of the rules the industry currently works under could be eliminated or modified. But Trump is likely to find that process is more complex than he appeared to believe as a candidate, said Nashashibi said.

“If you want to roll back a regulation, you have to issue a new regulation — and that takes time,” he said. “There’s going to be some areas where he’s going to have to deal with some lawsuits.”

Monroe said he expects to see more spending on infrastructure projects — one of the few subjects Trump and Hillary Clinton held similar view on during the campaign. One topic that the manufacturing associations the men represented said they would fight the new president on is any attempt to undo trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. Monroe said he hoped his campaign rhetoric moderates once Trump is in office.

“I think Trump may have a little more sophisticated ideas on trade than many people give him credit for,” he said.

Punching higher
On the trade show floor, Fabtech was as loud and successful as ever, organizers said, with 1,500 exhibitors, 31,110 attendees and 575,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“We are so grateful to our exhibitors, attendees, special guests and the city of Las Vegas for helping make Fabtech 2016 such a resounding success,” said Mark Hoper, vice president of expositions and media with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. “The enthusiasm and commitment displayed by everyone at the show to improve our industries were contagious. By participating in Fabtech 2016, attendees now have stronger, more diverse business networks and increased knowledge on manufacturing’s top trends and best practices.”

The 2017 show is scheduled for Nov. 6-9 in Chicago.