Our representatives in Washington sat idly by this month and watched the Export-Import Bank’s charter expire for the first time in 80 years, not even allowing for a vote to save an agency the helps thousands of American firms sell their products around the world.
In doing so, lawmakers put at risk the more than $37.4 billion in exports backed by the agency, which provides export financing and trade insurance to U.S. businesses. In turn, those exports support more than 200,000 jobs – many of them at small businesses. More than 3,000 small firms received assistance from Ex-Im’s last year, helping them sell more than $10 billion of goods and services to customers overseas.
The numbers are staggering, and there are plenty more of them – but then again, they don’t tell the story of the Ex-Im Bank nearly as well as the small business owners and American workers who depend on the agency every day.
So we’ll let them tell you.
“It’s very important to our workforce that we continue to have strong export sales,” Dan Roberts, president and general manager of Yakima-based Manhasset Specialty Company, said in the video. He explained that exports, which represented approximately 5 percent of sales 15 years ago, now account for more than one third of Manhasset’s revenue. “It helps keep our folks working, it helps keep this place running.”
In order to sell overseas, Roberts and his company – which manufactures music stands – depend on Ex-Im’s financing. “The Ex-Im Bank is very important to Manhasset,” he said. In fact, since the company started working with the bank, “we’re growing and exporting more than ever,” added James York, one of the firm’s shipping and receiving specialists.
It may be hard to continue that growth without Ex-Im. Until its charter is renewed, the agency cannot issue any new lines of credit, leaving Manhasset in a bind and putting a large share of the company’s exports – and with them, a large number of jobs – in jeopardy.
“Just to have a job to go to every day is important,” said Mike Lizotte, a lead powder coated who has worked at the company for 14 years. “My family relies on it.”
Started nearly 100 years ago, the Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle manufactures an array of machine parts and plastic injection molding for the government and aerospace industry, all with the help of blind and deaf-blind employees.
“Over the years, it has provided an opportunity for literally hundreds and hundreds of blind and deaf-blind people to have jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have had,” said Kirk Adams, the group’s president and chief executive. In turn, that has allowed them to “buy homes, send their kids to college take vacations, retire comfortably.”
However, their industry depends heavily on selling products internationally, and by extension, it depended heavily on the Ex-Im Bank. Adams notes that the domino effects of the agency’s closure could hit his organization hard.
“It’s a pretty simple relationship,” he explained. “If customers aren't able to place orders, the numbers of planes produced decreases, our statement of work goes down, and we need to lay people off -- and those folks are not getting other jobs.”
Owned by a group of American farmers, Norwest Ingredients sells mint flavoring to manufacturers of candy and oral care. “Initially, we just worked within the U.S., but to really grow, we needed to export,” Norwest Ingredients President Terry Cochran said. “Without the Ex-Im’s insurance program, we simply couldn’t enter overseas markets.”
Since the company started working with Ex-Im six years ago, growth has doubled and the share of the firm’s sales coming from exports has ballooned from 10 percent to 60 percent. In large part, that’s because banks will now lend against the firm’s overseas orders before Norwest receives payments, thanks to the Ex-Im trade insurance. In turn, that allows the firm to access the capital it needs to expand production and hire more people.
“Besides the jobs it creates, it gives us the opportunity to add value back to our community,” said Joann Verhey, the Royal City-based firm’s office manager.
“When people think about the Ex-Im Bank, they think about the larger players,” said Norwest Global Account Manager Stacie Cochran. “We’re a small company in a very rural community, and we need Ex-Im Bank immensely to be able to continue shipping globally.”
Washington state isn’t an exception. There are Stacie Cochrans, Mike Lizottes and James Yorks working at Ex-Im-dependent small businesses in every state across the country. It’s their stories that federal lawmakers must keep in mind as they consider whether to renew the bank’s charter when they return to D.C. later this month.
“It’s small businesses and medium-sized businesses that are really, truly going to be hurt” by the bank’s closure, Tim Rasmussen, vice president of international banking at Umpqua Bank (which supports small businesses in Oregon, California, Nevada and Washington) explained in a separate video published by the Association of Washington Business, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate. Without the bank, he added, those companies will be places “at a dire disadvantage to foreign companies.”
Which makes you wonder, with so many small businesses dependent on the bank, shouldn’t reauthorizing it be a no-brainer for Congress?
As Manhasset’s York said, “We need the Ex-Im Bank to be there to back us up.”