New Export-Import Bank office in Seattle targets small businesses

Aug 21, 2012

Mastering the export business can be tough – especially for a small company. Now there’s a new push to help local entrepreneurs sell more stuff overseas.

Mesh Tadesse owns a coffee shop in Seattle. Now he wants to start a business in his native country of Ethiopia to sell milk. But he needs to buy equipment, and the manufacturer he wants to buy from here in the U.S. wants a guarantee he can make the payments. So, he’s turned to the Export-Import Bank of the United States. It’s a federal agency that provides financing and insurance to make it easier for U.S. companies to export. Tadesse says both Ethiopia and the U.S. will benefit once his company gets going.

"I want to help my country, at the same time I’m helping the U.S. in exporting," Tadesse said.

His is just one of the companies that a new Seattle office of the Export-Import Bank is designed to help. The bank’s already very important to Washington state because Boeing is the bank’s biggest customer. But this office will focus more on helping small businesses. What happens, say, if a war breaks out in the country where you’ve been selling stuff and you haven’t been paid yet? The Export-Import Bank can protect against that, says the bank’s chairman Fred Hochberg.

"We’ll guarantee or write you an insurance policy. If you can’t collect, we’ll collect on your behalf," Hochberg said.

The Export-Import Bank came close to being shut down earlier this year when some Republicans in Congress refused to reauthorize its budget. They said the bank was an example of corporate welfare. Hochberg gives credit to Washington Senator Maria Cantwell for keeping the bank alive. Cantwell says she stressed that the bank is not a drag on U.S. resources.

"The fact that they finance these deals but actually get paid back more on their financial terms actually generates revenue for taxpayers in America and so, I think that's why we got it reauthorized is because we pointed that out," Cantwell said.

The Export-Import Bank charges a fee to its customers and has generated a profit for the U.S. Treasury totaling almost $2 billion over the past five years.