Cantwell supports extending charter of U.S. Ex-Im Bank

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor

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Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pitched for Congress to extend the charter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank during a Monday morning visit to Columbia Machine’s headquarters and manufacturing plant in Vancouver, saying the bank’s services help small businesses compete in overseas markets.

Cantwell said she does not understand the bank’s critics, who are trying to block Congressional reauthorization of the bank’s charter, which expires Sept. 30. She cited Columbia Machine, a 400-employee business that exports equipment used for concrete production to over 100 countries, as one of seven Clark County companies that are able to maintain and expand local jobs thanks to bank loans to overseas customers.

“In a nutshell, this really is about manufacturing and America’s desire to keep America competitive with manufacturing jobs,” said Cantwell, who was flanked by local business and economic development officials. “If we want our economy to grow at home, we have to chase those international opportunities.”

The Ex-Im Bank, created in 1934, functions as a credit agency that finances or insures U.S. goods purchased by foreign customers.

In Columbia’s case, customers are able to obtain credit to purchase products that typically cost $500,000 to $3 million, said Bryan Goodman, the company’s vice president of operations. The ability to provide financing is an attractive incentive to foreign buyers for considering American-made products, according to Columbia officials.

Since 2007 it has supported $233 billion in exports nationwide, including $60 million in sales from seven exporting companies in Southwest Washington, Cantwell said.

“This is so important because 85,000 Washington state jobs hang in the balance,” she said at the manufacturing site, which is also Columbia Machine’s headquarters. “That is how many jobs have been supported here in the state by the Export-Import Bank.”

Tea Party activists and fiscal conservatives in Congress have singled out the bank for financing that they say goes predominantly to a small number of large corporations, most notably Boeing.

Supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that it is a self-sustaining entity that has supported more than 1 million jobs over the last five years at little cost to taxpayers. Indeed, Cantwell said the Ex-Im Bank transferred $1 billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2013, reducing the national debt.

Addressing criticisms

Cantwell made reference to bank critics’ complaints about Boeing’s use of Ex-Im Bank by its foreign buyers.

“It’s almost like (they think) we should apologize for selling big, expensive products,” she said. Her preferred statistic was that nearly 90 percent of the bank’s transactions are with small businesses.

Jonna Russell, financial controller for Korab USA, a Vancouver-based pulp and paper trading company, said her company was able to negotiate ongoing sales with one major customer thanks to credit insurance offered through the Ex-Im Bank.

That customer has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the Vancouver-based company, which has eight Southwest Washington employees and 60 worldwide, she said.

Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia Region Economic Development Council, said exports are a major contributor to the Southwest Washington economy, accountable for over 9,000 jobs directly and about $4 billion in exports.

He cited eight companies and $81 million in exports by local companies using Ex-Im services from a slightly larger geographic area of Southwest Washington.

Cantwell visited Kelso later Monday to tour Kelso Airport and look at that city’s downtown redevelopment plans.

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