SALT LAKE CITY — While most Utahns say they have not seen significant effects from the ongoing tariff battle between the U.S. and China, local business owner Fernanda Böhme has.
“It has impacted our business substantially,” the co-founder of Böhme said. “I don’t think the consumer quite understands what the tariffs are and how it’s impacting their day-to-day lives.”
Since starting her Sandy-based boutique in 2006 with her sister, Böhme said she's been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by manufacturing goods and merchandise overseas. The business has since grown to 17 locations in Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa and Montana.
But due to tariffs imposed on clothing, shoes and other imports, Bohme said her business costs have spiked.
“China has been a huge partner for us to be able to bring in the goods at a much better price in a much higher quality,” she said.
Additionally, she’s depended on China to manufacture the business’ store fixtures.
In order to keep their pricing to consumers affordable and competitive, Böhme said her business has had to absorb most of the increased costs, but not all of them.
“We have been increasing our prices just a little bit,” she said.
While she doesn’t believe prices of consumer goods will double overall, she predicts that costs will gradually increase and consumers might not notice, because they will acclimate to the new costs.
About 70% of Utahns say they have not seen any impact from trade negotiations or the recent tariff increases compared to 19% who say they have noticed some impact, according to the latest Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index, based on a survey of 500 Utah households. About 11% said they were unsure.
On Sept. 1, the latest round of tariffs were in place affecting a large swath of consumer and agricultural goods that are traded between the U.S. and China, according to Chad Berbert, a principal at the Cicero Group, which serves as advisers to Zions Bank.
The next round of tariff increases are scheduled to occur Oct. 15.
Berbert said Utahns are split about how trade negotiations will affect their personal economic situation. About 46% believe it will negatively affect them and 28% said the negotiations will positively impact their own economic situation.
“Utahns remain somewhat conflicted on future economic conditions and how the negotiations and tariffs will affect them personally,” Berbert said.
Those uncertainties translate to the 18% of Utahns who feel that business conditions will worsen in the next six months, according to the survey.
“Some of this uncertainty is likely coming from mixed economic signals coming both from the Federal Reserve board, which decreased interest rates again, as well as from recent manufacturing job data showing a slowing in nationwide manufacturing growth,” he said.
Berbert said the recent implementation of additional tariffs along with intensifying trade negotiations between the U.S. and China have caused “jitters” in the financial markets and concerns about economic growth.
“Amid all this uncertainty, it is important to note that economic fundamentals here in Utah continue to remain strong,” Berbert said.
Berbert said 96% of Utahns feel that business conditions are either normal or good, and Utahns are more positive about their future incomes as 40% feel their income will increase in the next six months.
Currently, Utah has the eighth-highest median household income in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as household income has increased by 7.8% in the last year.
Aside from her business, Böhme has noticed how tariffs have affected factories in India, Pakistan and China — even forcing some to close.
The justification of tariffs increasing the cost of imported goods in order to drive domestic industry, Böhme said, “is not a reality.”
When businesses are forced to absorb costs, she said, jobs are the first to be cut.
Böhme said she doesn’t plan on laying people off, but she said she’d like to hire more people.
She hopes the tariffs currently imposed aren’t here to stay.
“Even if they come to a trade war agreement, and even if the negotiations escalate even more, and they come to an agreement, I’m afraid that those tariffs are going to be in place still,” she said.