Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Reauthorize profitable bank that aids small exporters

June 25, 2013 

Lisa J. Howlett is president of Auburn Leather Co., a family-owned leather products manufacturer since 1863 in Auburn.

Before Sen. Mitch McConnell decides how to vote on reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, I hope he meets Tony Giles, who came to work just a few months ago at our company, Auburn Leather.

Once jobless, this single dad now earns wages in Kentucky filling orders from overseas customers. With Ex-Im Bank financing, we've grown our export business to 45 percent of total sales.

This is thanks to the bank's small business trade credit insurance that virtually eliminates our risk of nonpayment by overseas buyers — and helps thousands of other small exporters nationwide.

In fact, because of Ex-Im Bank's financing, Tony is one of more than 120 employees now on the job at our company — up from 55 in 1995.

It enables us to sell products like our leather shoelaces to shoe manufacturers in countries halfway around the world and not worry about late payment or defaults. And it helps expand America's export economy, one of the bright spots in our economic recovery.

I met many other small exporters like us at the Ex-Im Bank annual conference in April. I learned firsthand how this crucial program nurtures small exporters by expanding their working capital and protecting them from nonpayment.

The bank does this at no cost to taxpayers. Its operating budget comes from fees and interest from customers like Auburn Leather. Its losses last year came to only 0.3 percent of outstanding financing.

It makes a profit. Ex-Im Bank transferred $1.1 billion to the Treasury last fiscal year, reducing our federal deficit.

And it supports jobs — some 255,000 last year alone — 70 percent of them in manufacturing companies like ours.

But its charter expires at the end of next year. Without reauthorization the Export-Import Bank would go out of business.

McConnell voted last year to kill this vital agency. He was one of only 22 senators to vote that way, and it passed in Congress with bipartisan support. But this year, the opponents are back, egged on by the Club for Growth and others.

Trying to kill the Export-Import Bank ignores the reality that U.S. exporters face in securing commercial financing, which dried up after the recession, especially for export guarantees or loans or simply working capital — and most especially for small businesses like ours.

Without Ex-Im Bank's financial products, global business realities would expose Auburn Leather to nonpayment by overseas buyers, much higher export credit expenses and, ultimately, lower sales revenues and fewer jobs for Kentuckians.

Small businesses like us need the Export-Import Bank to level the playing field. It keeps us in the game against foreign competitors whose governments fully support their export credit agencies.

Failing to pass reauthorization would amount to unilateral disarmament and job losses in thousands of small exporters in every state, not just Kentucky.

That would be a tragic loss of competitiveness and jobs. With so much at stake, McConnell should know the high stakes and vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank and support Kentucky jobs.

Reach Lisa J. Howlett at lisa.howlett@auburnleather.com.

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