The imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs last week roiled the stock market and embroiled U.S. allies and tradiing partners in what could turn into a trade war. And the decision also could have an impact in Flagler County, but not necessarily the one many people might think.
While automobile manufacturers and beverage companies warn that higher steel and aluminum costs could force them to raise prices for consumers and imperil American jobs, a veil of uncertainty hangs over the latest shift in global trade that could have a ripple effect from Wall Street to Main Street.
It is that uncertainty that is most worrisome as the economy continues to push ahead in the ninth year of recovery from the Great Recession.
At Pitts Glass in Bunnell, owner Grant Pitts said the new tariffs could have an impact on his company.
"We've already gotten emails from some of our suppliers," he said. "But until it happens, I am not worried about it."
That is probably the best attitude to have about the issue as the initial plan for a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum continues to evolve. But it does make it harder to plan, and that kind of uncertainty is something most business owners try to avoid at all costs.
The same attitude is the order of the day at Cline Construction, which could see some materials costs rise.
Company president Scott Sowers said while some of the work they do requires the use of domestic materials, other contracts do not. And for those, most of the steel comes from China.
"We're just trying to do a wait-and-see kind of approach," Sowers said. "Who knows if it starts a trade war what will happen?"
That is where the real problems could arise.
As the U.S. economy churns along and global trading conditions change as governments adjust policies, most of the attention is paid to large industrial firms like steel makers. But that is only the tip of the economic iceberg, and the deeper impact of new tariffs will flow all the way down to local companies at some point.
With inflation still at low levels, consumers could experience the kind of sticker shock they haven't seen for quite a while as the financial impact of the tariffs percolate through the economy.
One area where the impact could be a more direct factor is in residential home construction. As builders already face a skilled labor shortage and rising material costs for lumber, an increase in steel and aluminum prices could throw a monkey wrench into the housing recovery that has fueled economic growth in Flagler County.
With the Federal Reserve Board set to raise interest rates three or possibly four times this year, the cost of buying a home is likely to rise. At the same time, builders facing higher materials costs will no doubt feel compelled to raise the base prices of homes, pushing the end price even higher. That could slow the housing recovery and, by extension, slow economic growth.
In the end, whatever happens, it will be another lesson in how a global economy works.