How a Little-Known Federal Agency Helps This Maryland Small Business Make It in the World Economy

Nov 17, 2016 - 9:00am

President and CEO, Ellicott Dredges.


Dredging equipment made in the U.S. by Ellicott Dredges is used overseas to help improve flood control and restore hydroelectric dams.
Dredging equipment made by Maryland's Ellicott Dredges is used overseas to help improve flood control and restore hydroelectric dams.

There’s a common narrative repeated so often in the political arena that it is sometimes taken as gospel: American businesses are moving good manufacturing jobs overseas. As the CEO of a Maryland company that operates not one, but two robust manufacturing operations right here in the U.S., I know that’s not the case for all U.S. businesses.

Yet, as the world gets smaller and more connected, American businesses must look beyond our own borders to strengthen jobs here at home. Our company, Ellicott Dredges, has been able to support the sort of good manufacturing jobs that are so crucial to America’s middle class because we have always actively pursued new markets both here at home and abroad.

As the world gets smaller and more connected, American businesses must look beyond our own borders to strengthen jobs here at home.

Ellicott Dredges is the world’s oldest and largest builder of medium-sized cutter-suction dredges. Think of dredges as giant straws that suck sand from underwater. They address a universal need to control floods and make waterways passable. Ellicott’s work in global markets dates to the original construction of the Panama Canal in 1907. Just this year, the Canal retired our 70-year-old dredge Mindi that was built during World War II.

More recently we’ve had success selling our equipment to more challenging markets, such as Iraq, where Ellicott dredges are helping to improve flood control and hydroelectric dams. But that doesn’t mean doing business overseas is easy. We have done business in 100 countries, but with 200+ countries in the world, that simply means there are 100 more countries where we haven’t yet made our first mistake!

American small businesses face a unique set of challenges when conducting business abroad – especially in developing markets – not the least of which is ensuring they will receive prompt payment for goods and services rendered. Whether there are real risks of doing business in an unstable region, or just the perceived risk of operating in a new place, American companies often seek insurance to protect their companies, their employees, and their products against both real and perceived risks. 

That's where Ellicott’s partnership with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has been so valuable. OPIC is the United States' development finance institution (DFI) that works to help American businesses navigate and successfully operate in challenging emerging markets. For Ellicott, OPIC's political risk insurance ensures that our American-made dredges are successfully sold and implemented in these markets, many of which are affected by conflict or instability.  

This political risk insurance helps us issue the necessary bonding foreign business often requires. From Kashmir to Baghdad to the Suez Canal, OPIC has helped us win business, and conduct it profitably. With OPIC's support, our financial partners are more comfortable with our international portfolio, which spans South America, the Middle East, and Africa. OPIC has helped facilitate amicable, proper, and fair resolutions in multiple major markets for Ellicott. For example, if a foreign government is reluctant to return a bond after project completion, which sometimes occurs due to bureaucratic inertia, OPIC can help us get it back. For us, and small businesses like ours, the support of OPIC is instrumental. I don’t think we’d be able to operate in some of those markets without OPIC’s support.

Leveraging the power of the private sector, OPIC addresses some of the most pressing global development challenges in emerging and frontier markets. Ellicott's dredges are used as a tool for physical construction, helping build critical infrastructure in emerging markets. But in some cases, such as our operations in Iraq, our dredges also help produce electricity, develop irrigation systems, and improve the water supply.

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With deep connection to our local community, we pride ourselves on supporting the local American communities that drive our enterprise. These communities include not only our more than 200 employees in Wisconsin and Baltimore, but also the many more working for our American suppliers. When those communities depend on business that comes from exporting, it's crucial that we're protected as best we can against the various financial risks associated with those exports. OPIC's partnership supports Ellicott's operations every day, securing jobs here at home and contributing to development abroad.

OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, will host its Expanding Horizons workshop for small businesses on Friday, November 18, in Baltimore.

About the Author

About the Author

Peter Bowe, President and CEO of Ellicott Dredges
President and CEO, Ellicott Dredges.