Bank bill key to aerospace jobs, senators warn

EVERETT — The U.S.-backed bank that helped finance 471 Boeing Co. jet sales over the last three years could close if Congress fails to act by May 31.

That could put in jeopardy future aircraft sales and jobs at hundreds of Washington aerospace companies, say advocates of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Established nearly 80 years ago, the Ex-Im Bank steps in to provide financing on exports from American companies in cases when private lenders can’t or won’t lend money. It won’t be able to continue doing that unless Congress reauthorizes the bank by the end of next month.

However, the Ex-Im Bank has critics, including Boeing customer Delta Air Lines, which doesn’t want the government to help competing international airlines buy new aircraft. Others say Boeing disproportionately benefits from the Ex-Im Bank.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., countered that claim during a visit Tuesday to Boeing supplier Korry in Everett. A subsidiary of Bellevue-based Esterline, Korry has 600 Everett employees who supply cockpit panels for Boeing planes including the 787.

“Boeing is one of the country’s largest exporters,” Murray said, explaining why Ex-Im Bank has financed so many Boeing deals.

One in three jobs in Washington state is tied to international trade, she said. Many of those positions are at small or medium-sized companies, not at Boeing. Those businesses also depend on Ex-Im financing to operate, Murray said.

Esterline has about 1,000 employees in Washington state between its Everett and Bellevue locations, Frank Houston, senior vice president for the company, told dozens of workers who gathered to hear Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell speak about the Ex-Im Bank. Korry and Esterline depend on sales to foreign companies, Houston said.

“We have a big stake in this,” he said.

So do about 11,000 companies across the country, including 300 Boeing suppliers in Washington, said Jenette Ramos, a vice president of the supply chain for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“The Ex-Im Bank … is tremendously important to our business here in Washington state,” she said.

Boeing declined to say how many of those 471 jet deals the company would have actually lost had the Ex-Im bank not backed the sales. Through Boeing Capital Services, the aerospace company also can help customers finance jet purchases, much as a car company helps people finance purchases. Company spokesman Larry Wilson said that aircraft sales are at risk without Ex-Im financing and could lead to lost revenue for Boeing and its suppliers.

Cantwell, who is up for re-election, introduced an amendment in March to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank until 2015. Her amendment also would increase the bank’s lending capacity to $140 billion from $100 billion. Over the past week, Cantwell has been visiting Washington companies that benefit from Ex-Im financing, including music-stand manufacturer Manhasset in Yakima and SCAFCO Grain Systems Co. in Spokane.

At Korry on Tuesday, Cantwell said that failing to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank would “be almost like hitting the aerospace industry in the stomach.”

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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