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April 5, 2012

The Export-Import Bank: A Quiet PR Crisis

by Maggie Humphreys

International trade
290,000 American jobs. 3,500 businesses. $41.3 billion in 2011 transactions.  87% of 2011 transactions with small businesses. $1.9 billion in returns.

These remarkable numbers provide a snapshot of the economic growth facilitated by the Export-Import Bank, or Ex-Im. Ex-Im is a cornerstone institution supporting U.S. exports and enjoys rare bipartisan support. It is financially self-sustained and returns a profit for the federal government. Yet the bank’s charter is set to expire this May and there has been little progress in reauthorizing the financial institution.

Ex-Im is particularly critical to Washington, the most trade-dependent state in the nation. In the past five years, Ex-Im has supported over $37 billion in Washington exports. Washington’s trade footprint led to Ex-Im announcing a new, permanent office to be opened in Seattle this summer.

Delays in reauthorization of Ex-Im have already negatively impacted American businesses. Fred Hochberg, Ex-Im’s chairman, told Bloomberg Businessweek that the customers of one Ex-Im client, a steel products exporter, were already looking at alternative firms in Germany.

Ironically, the Ex-Im reauthorization delay comes at a moment when Congress, in an election year, is desperate for public approval and opportunities to showcase economic recovery. Yet neither party has framed Ex-Im reauthorization as a step that will produce new American jobs.

Private-sector stakeholders that Ex-Im serves have also failed in advocating for the agency’s immediate reauthorization. While there is high-level advocacy from Boeing and large organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, increased coordinated messaging, particularly to mainstream stakeholders, could help expedite reauthorization. Such coalition advocacy can be a key element in successful campaign outcomes.

A coalition campaign approach would allow Ex-Im and to engage politicians and executives as well as small businesses, economic development organizations and local news outlets in trade-dependent regions like Washington.  This sort of coordinated approach would provide Ex-Im advocates with better prospects for seeing their interests supported by the decision-makers who matter most.

The principles of coalition campaigns are similar regardless of industry. At Nyhus, coalitions we have built, launched and advised include We Work for Health, Partners in Preservation, and Washington United for Marriage. These coalitions use strategic messaging and advocacy at all levels, from local to federal. Our approach is multi-pronged, including engagement in Washington, D.C. through our partnership with Monument Policy Group.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia]


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One comment on “The Export-Import Bank: A Quiet PR Crisis

  1. Maggie,

    Accurate portrayal, but Unfortunately federal agencies such as Ex-Im Bank are unable to engage in coalition building activities such as you describe, as the use of appropriated funds for “lobbying”, as this would be defined, is not permitted by law. Agencies can educate generally and respond to information requests, but are at a decided disadvantage when trying to counter disinformation from private organizations.

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