Senators stump for Ex-Im Bank during visit to Milwaukee company

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says it’s frustrating that politics are playing a role in whether Congress decides this month to continue the Export-Import Bank.

“What’s most frustrating about the idea that politics would play a role in this, is that the Export-Import Bank is actually profitable,” Baldwin said. “It returns hundreds of millions of dollars into the federal coffers annually. If it is allowed to expire, there will be financial consequences.”

Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, was in Milwaukee yesterday with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. They toured Prolitec Inc., a 60-employee company that exports its products to 90 countries around the globe, thanks in part to Export-Import-backed loans.

The Export-Import Bank, established in 1934, helps U.S. businesses obtain financing to be able to export products overseas. The bank’s charter is set to expire June 30.

Richard Weening, CEO of Prolitec, told having access to capital has allowed the firm to ship products to 90 countries.

“We have business operations in 73 of them,” he said. “More than half our revenues are from foreign countries.”

Weening started his company in 2004 with two employees, and first learned of the Export-Import Bank about six years ago. The firm makes commercial air-freshening equipment, as well as a variety of liquid fragrances that the equipment disperses.

Weening told reporters that the company still goes through local banks for financing, but that having the backing of the Export-Import Bank is crucial.

Baldwin and Cantwell — who is leading the effort in the Senate to reauthorize the bank charter — say small businesses are key beneficiaries of this type of government assistance and that jobs are at stake.

“In Wisconsin, it’s been very clear that small- and medium-sized businesses have a tremendous advantage because of the existence of the Export-Import Bank,” Baldwin told reporters. “Having been also on visits to many larger businesses that do business with the Export-Import Bank, there’s not a one of them that I know that doesn’t have suppliers that are small and medium-sized businesses … so there’s a ripple effect.”

Cantwell cited the need for “available tools” to help businesses “compete in the 21st century.”

Cantwell, who’s also traveling to New Hampshire, Georgia, Oregon and her home state of Washington to promote the Export-Import Bank, warned, “If we let this charter expire, we will put American jobs at risk and American exporters will be at a disadvantage from other countries that actually have the same kinds of credit agencies.”

— By Kay Nolan