Senator talks up Ex-Im Bank during Yakima manufacturer tour

Yakima Herald - Molly Rosbach

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Manhasset Specialty Co. of Yakima manufactures music stands and ships them to 40 different countries around the world.

But the local company's export business may suffer if Congress doesn't reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The long-standing federal agency helps finance foreign sales and assumes credit risk for export goods that private banks are unwilling to take on.

Sen. Maria Cantwell visited Manhasset on Thursday as part of a Central and Eastern Washington tour to highlight the importance of the "Ex-Im Bank" for small businesses. The Democrat, who faces challenger state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, in her bid for re-election, also visited Spokane, Moses Lake and Bingen.

Amid the ratchetlike din of machinery at the factory, Cantwell said the bank plays a critical role in helping U.S. manufacturers get access to foreign markets.

"We are one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation. If the Ex-Im bank were to fail, Washington state would feel this pain more urgently than anyone else," she added.

The bank has been around since 1934 and has a lending authority of $100 billion. In addition to export financing, it provides export credit insurance and loan guarantees.

Cantwell says the bank has financed $28 billion in loans in the state in the last five years, resulting in $64 billion in sales for 168 exporters. Her office estimates the bank supports 83,000 jobs in the state.

Cantwell is seeking not only to reauthorize its charter and extend it another four years, but also to increase its lending authority to $140 billion. The bank's charter will run out on May 31 if it's not reauthorized.

Cantwell and Manhasset general manager Barry Heid say the manufacturing company would not have achieved the growth it's seen in recent years without the bank.

If the bank ceases its export financing, "Our sales would likely go down," Heid said.

Manhasset has used export financing assistance since 2004, and in that time has seen its export distributors go from four foreign countries to 40, while its export sales have doubled from $700,000 in 2007 to about $1.4 million, Heid said.

In Yakima, the bank has helped finance nine exporting companies, whose combined sales amount to $15 million over the last five years.

"That affects jobs. That affects the economy right here in Yakima," said Verlynn Best, president and CEO of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, who also attended the Cantwell event.

Cantwell said the bank generated $700 million for the federal government last year in the fees paid by exporters, and is expected to make up to $900 million this year.

"If it's making money, then that's healthy commerce. That's a program that's working," said Best.