Republican Sen. Rand Paul got a lesson in the intricacies of embroidery digitizing and the negative effect tariffs are having on the promotional apparel business when he visited Ignition Drawing in Seattle last week.
The senator squeezed a 1.5-hour visit to the decorated-apparel business before heading off to meetings with Microsoft and other more prominent scheduled events. Cory Dean, Ignition’s owner and a donor to Paul’s campaign, said he got a call “out of the blue” asking if he would be interested in hosting the Kentucky senator at his business. “It’s kind of surreal to get a call with a U.S. senator asking to meet,” Dean said. “It was a pretty surreal experience for a lot of the staff too.”
The Paul visit included a short tour of the facility and and an explanation of how embroidery digitizing works. “Rand was very impressed with how complicated it is to take a logo and turn it into a uniform,” Dean said.
Paul and Dean also spent some time discussing tariffs. Dean owns Ignition Drawing, an embroidery digitizing and vector drawing company; Arrow Emblems, a patch manufacturer with two company-owned factories in China; and Emerald City Embroidery, a contract embroidery decorator with 70 heads in Tukwila, WA. “In the U.S., we take products that have inputs from China and kind of perform some value-added work on them and then sell them to companies in North America,” Dean explained. “If they raise the cost of our inputs, then we have to raise the cost of our finished goods. Tariffs hit Chinese factories, but they do equal damage to American companies.”
Dean believed it was an eye-opening discussion for Paul. “I don’t think he understood as deeply as he needs to understand how those tariffs on inputs have a big effect on almost every factory,” Dean said. “Even something made in America often has pieces coming from somewhere else.”
Ultimately, he added, Paul was sympathetic to Dean’s perspective on tariffs.
In addition to discussing tariffs, Paul held an informal town hall-style Q&A with about 40 of Dean’s employees, answering questions on everything from the border wall to Supreme Court justice appointments. “We’re probably about as neon blue as it gets in Seattle,” Dean said. But, “For the most part, it was respectful and calm and fun.”
Paul, known for being against President Trump’s emergency declaration to construct a wall along the Mexican border wall, talked about some of his disagreements with the president. For instance, one Ignition employee said that the president “doesn’t always look so competent on TV” and asked what he’s like in person. Paul’s cheeky response: “The same person as you see on TV.”
Still, Paul noted, that he has to pick his battles with the White House. “He made the comment many times that ‘Trump’s the boss, and if I insult the boss it hurts my greater good,’ ” Dean said.
Paul also pointed out that he agrees with some of the president’s actions, though when he mentioned things like tax cuts and reductions in government spending, they fell flat in the mostly left-leaning room. “He needs to tweak his message when he’s not speaking to millionaires, but to the full spectrum of people,” Dean said.
Overall, however, Dean said the impromptu town hall was a success, and even employees who initially didn’t want to attend said it was one of the most enjoyable things they’ve been a part of. “Politicians are quite good at being warm and connecting with people,” Dean said. “Once you talk to them face to face the caricature becomes a real person.”