Charlotte business execs: Export-Import Bank is critical for doing business abroad

When Jenny Fulton and Ashlee Furr lost their jobs in the financial industry several years ago, they began producing and selling pickles from their home base in Belews Creek in Forsyth County.

Miss Jenny’s Pickles, formed in 2009, started like many small businesses, with the proprietors selling their products to local grocery stores.

Now, their jars are being packed and shipped to China and countries across the globe – thanks to the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Wayne Cooper, chairman of the N.C. District Export Council, said Wednesday at a meeting in Charlotte.

Cooper and other Charlotte business leaders emphasized both small businesses like Miss Jenny’s and large corporations will suffer if Export-Import Bank dissipates on June 30, which will occur if Congress takes no action. Executives at the meeting, which took place in The Westin, represented companies such as Duke Energy and Boeing.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s policy group, organized the meeting.

The Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that provides low-cost loans to companies that export American goods, has become a hotly debated topic in business and political circles. Some Republicans in Congress have pushed for an end to the bank, calling it a symbol of “corporate welfare.”

However, most of the business leaders at the talk said the overall economy would be hurt if the Export-Import Bank closes.

Business owners said they can go to the bank and get a loan to cover transactions in case a buyer doesn’t pay – a type of financing they view as essential to keeping the economy afloat.

North Carolina exports totaled $31.3 billion last year. These exports would not have been possible without Export-Import Bank, Cooper said.

Mark Elam, director of state and local operations for Boeing, said the bank is essential to sales for the aircraft manufacturer.

“We look down the next 10 years, we’re building wide-body jets in China; we’re building wide-body jets in Canada; we’re building wide-body jets in Brazil, Japan, Russia,” he said.

Chris Tye, senior vice president of Fluor Enterprises, said larger nuclear energy services companies such as his must export because the supply chain isn’t large enough in the U.S. Several other nuclear energy representatives echoed this sentiment, saying that exporting gives them the chance to compete for sales.

Steve Nesbit, director of nuclear policy and support for Duke Energy, said even big energy companies, including Duke, support the reauthorization of Export-Import Bank because it gives businesses the opportunity to compete outside of the United States.

Jim Little, president of Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster, said business leaders need to do more to raise the public’s awareness about the bank.

“Ex-Im Bank is not really in consumers’ minds. The public won’t realize it until it’s gone. We have to create our own message,” Little said. “I think we’re being way too polite here.”