Export-Import Bank opens Northwest office

Regional presence to help global goals of local companies

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The federally chartered Export-Import Bank, which helps U.S. businesses finance international trade activities, opened its Northwest regional office Monday in Seattle with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D.-Wash., and bank chairman Fred P. Hochberg in attendance.

The bank that is commonly known as the Ex-Im Bank is establishing four new regional offices, including the Seattle location within the U.S. Department of Commerce office, as it seeks to target more regional clients for its loans, loan guarantees, and insurance programs. Washington is one of the nation's largest export states. Boeing is a huge export presence in addition to many small firms as well as food and agricultural products producers.

Last year, financing from the Export-Import Bank helped support some 83,000 Washington jobs, assisting 172 exporters with $66 billion in sales, according to Cantwell's office.

Vancouver companies that obtained financing from the bank in recent years include industrial products manufacturers Wells-CTI, Inc. and Northwest Pipe, as well as vitamin company Northwest Natural Products, Inc. The bank also has helped CID Bio-Science of Camas expand operations, according to Cantwell's office.

In May, Congress extended the Ex-Im Bank's charter to 2014. The bank, which is self-supporting, provided more than $32 billion in financing to more than 3,600 companies in fiscal year 2011. The Ex-Im Bank is not allowed to compete with private sector lenders but provides support that companies need to develop export markets and compete on the international market.

In phone interviews, both Hochberg and Cantwell said the Seattle office will increase the bank's visibility among exporters and provide assistance much closer to home for Northwest companies. "Part of the issue is having someone who understands the local market and regional issues," Cantwell said. Other new or planned regional offices are in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Detroit, Hochberg said.

U.S. companies face competition not only from China but also Brazil, India, and other emerging economies, said Hochberg, who is both chairman and president of the bank. He just returned from Africa, where he found intense competition among companies trying to get a foothold in that continent. "U.S. companies are doing well, but they're fighting for every sale," he said.

The Ex-Im Bank can help U.S. businesses compete in such an environment, Hochberg said. "Sometimes companies are dealing with markets that are hard to finance into," he said.