Upstate Business Journal
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Export-Import Bank president tours SC while Congress debates bank’s future

September 22, 2014

by Benjamin Jeffers
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Officials from the Export-Import Bank toured South Carolina while Congress battled last week over the need for the bank’s existence.

At a stop in Greenville last Friday, Ex-Im chairman and president Fred Hochberg and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham toured Sage Automotive Interiors on the CU-ICAR campus, intent on demonstrating how the bank is helping South Carolina businesses like Sage.

Sage holds 40 percent of the market share of U.S. fabric seating and is second in the world for fabric-seating manufactures.

Sage CEO Dirk Pieper said the company’s $300 million in sales and $42 million United States payroll would not be possible without Ex-Im. The company employs about 1,000 people in South Carolina, and a loss of Ex-Im funding would result in a loss of several hundred jobs, he said.

Hochberg said the bank financed over $1 billion in S.C. exports last year.

“Supporting the Ex-Im Bank is not that complicated,” he said. “Some of the senator’s colleagues have made it much more complicated than it is.”

Hochberg referred to representatives and senators in Congress who say Ex-Im needs reform and is a tool the government uses to encourage crony capitalism.

In the Upstate, U.S. Rep. Mike Mulvaney (R-SC, 5th District), has strongly opposed Ex-Im. In an emailed statement, he said, “The Export-Import Bank is broken. Badly. Various government investigations have turned up shortcomings at the Bank that it refuses to address.”

Mulvaney said the Obama administration has used the bank to promote a global warming agenda. “Those sorts of things just simply cannot be tolerated by any government agency, regardless of what good it might do for some South Carolina businesses,” he said.

Graham told reporters the bank is under political siege. Other nations’ governments provide export financing, he said, and “this bank is designed to level the playing field.”

Critics say the private sector could take the place of Ex-Im, but Hochberg said the bank steps in when a gap in private funding exists.

Delta Air Lines has accused Ex-Im of subsidizing Boeing and helping Delta competitors, claims Hochberg dismissed as “rubbish.” He said, “We support jobs in Charleston and Washington State because Boeing is competing against Airbus.”

Boeing and its suppliers receive about 35 percent of Ex-Im’s yearly loan volume, according to Hochberg.

Boeing and Airbus are competing in the wide-bodied airline market in which China will soon be a player, Graham said. Financing from Germany, France and Britain backs Airbus.

Addressing another familiar criticism – that Ex-Im allows the government to pick winners and losers – Ex-Im senior communications advisor Matt Bevens said every company the bank finances must go though an application process that evaluates eligibility based on a company’s competitiveness in foreign markets and a gap in private sector funding.

According to Ex-Im, about 90 percent of its customers are small businesses.

“It’s about jobs; it’s about U.S. jobs, and it’s at no cost to the taxpayer,” Hochberg said.

Gov. Nikki Haley and Sens. Graham and Tim Scott have publicly supported the bank. Representatives from Reps. Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan’s offices said the congressmen are interested in reforms to Ex-Im.

Congress voted last week to extend Ex-Im’s charter until next summer. A spokesperson from Gowdy’s office said, “The discussion about Ex-Im is not over since the extension only goes through June.”

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