For Westinghouse Electric Co. and Holtec International, the sudden threat of the U.S. Export Import Bank disappearing could not have come at a worse time.
The companies have aspirations in developing countries, where their customers can’t necessarily turn to a commercial bank to finance a new Westinghouse reactor or a Holtec spent nuclear fuel storage facility.
The Export Import bank is their way of competing against government-owned companies in other countries for whom financing is not an issue.
That’s how Danny Roderick, CEO of Cranberry-based Westinghouse, and Pierre Paul Oneid, senior vice president at New Jersey-based Holtec, described their current predicament.
Government-based financing is often the first question Mr. Rodercik hears from potential clients, especially those in smaller, developing countries like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, where Westinghouse is pursuing new projects.
“The first thing they also tell me is the Russians have already offered financing, the French have already offered financing, the Koreans have already offered financing, the Japanese have already offered financing.
“What I always have, and have had for the past 10 years, is the U.S. government,” Mr. Roderick said.
That’s now in danger as the 80-year-old institution has become the subject of questions over corporate welfare.
The debate over Ex-Im’s reauthorization surfaced earlier this year and has only intensified with an Oct. 1 reauthorization deadline and Congress about to break for its monthlong August recess.
Some politicians and other opponents of the program say it puts U.S. taxpayers on the hook for risky loans that commercial banks aren’t willing to make. They also claim it picks winners and losers by supporting some U.S. companies but penalizing others. For example, if a Japanese automaker is getting an Ex-Im loan to finance its purchase of American-made seat belts, critics claim the U.S. government’s low-interest financing gives the Japanese firm an unfair advantage over American car companies.
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, countered Friday that “if we get rid of our bank, we are unilaterally disarming ourselves economically.”
According to Mr. Timmons, global trade is rising but the U.S. isn’t keeping pace. “Exports [are] falling from 15 percent of the global market in 2000 to just 9 percent” today.
“Without the bank, we risk falling even further behind,” he said at a panel his organization convened Friday morning involving Westinghouse and Holtec.
In Pennsylvania, the bank has helped to finance about $6 billion in export sales over the past seven years, with 250 companies benefiting.
Westinghouse hasn’t received Ex-Im bank assistance since 2008. Over the past seven years, its customers have gotten $10 million in loans, a sliver of the $3 billion disbursed by the bank to the benefit of Pennsylvania companies during that time.
Holtec said the threat of the bank’s closure is endangering a deal a decade in the making that’s currently in “the 11th hour. The company was selected in 2005 to build a centralized storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Ukraine, a project that was put on hold during the reign of a Russia-friendly government that ended earlier this year.
“It’s hard to believe that now our problem is not overseas,” Mr. Oneid said. “Our problem is here, with our Congress.
Anya Litvak: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1455.