By George Allen
December 14, 2014
The Richmond Times-Dispatch
A clear message from last month’s elections is that Americans are anxious about the economy. In fact, a look at the Virginia exit polls shows that the economy was the leading issue among half of all voters.
Members of Congress are now deliberating legislation on funding for the rest of the fiscal year — through September 2015 — that has the potential to boost economic growth. As they do, it will be important for them to view investments in international engagement as a way to promote our economic interests around the world and to create jobs at home.
As a longtime champion of Virginia’s economy, I’ve seen firsthand how our economic fate is tied directly to actions and markets around the world.
That is why it is deeply troubling that funding for U.S. international affairs programs, which build a foundation for U.S. businesses to enter these markets, has declined 14 percent in the past four years, though they make up a mere 1 percent of the budget. One especially important program, the Export-Import Bank, has only been reauthorized until June 2015. The Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation provide some of the best platforms for American entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive selling products or services overseas.
America’s prosperity, and our jobs, are hyper-connected to the ripples and waves of the global market. Many Virginians are well-aware of this connectivity. With the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads being the third-busiest port on the East Coast, Virginia-based companies continue to make substantial sales and profits by exporting around the world. Last year alone, Virginia manufacturers sold more than $18 billion in goods and services, and trade supported more than 1 million jobs in our commonwealth.
Since 95 percent of the world’s population and potential customers live outside of the United States, our access to overseas markets is crucial to the future potential of our economy. The fastest-growing markets around the globe, however, are not our traditional trading partners. Surprisingly to some, it is the developing world where more than half of America’s exports already go.
Consider the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank. As the official export credit agency of the United States, the Ex-Im Bank assists in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets by assuming credit and country risks in order to level the international playing field, especially for small businesses. In Virginia, 96 companies in 59 communities have utilized this self-funded bank, which is used only when private banks are unable to provide the services. If Congress fails to act responsibly with a long-term reauthorization, then employees of Virginia exporters who use the bank — like Optical Cable Corp. of Roanoke, Bristol Compressors and others — may lose future opportunities in overseas markets.
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