Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Export-Import Bank chairman visits Air Tractor

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, left, tours the Air Tractor aircraft plant in Olney Wednesday with Jim Hirsch, president of the company.  

Fred Hochberg made a promise to Air Tractor Vice President of Finance David Ickert roughly eight years ago when the two met.

The president and chairmen of the Export-Import Bank of the United States was determined to get to Olney and visit the aircraft manufacturing plant in North Texas because he was impressed by what he had heard and wanted to see it for himself. Hochberg made good on that promise Wednesday — one week before his term at the Ex-Im Bank expires — when he and a couple others from the self-sustaining federal agency paid a visit.

He called Air Tractor one of the bank's star exporters of products in the world.

"Here's a company that went from 10-12 percent exports to half their sales are now exports," he said. "We support about half of those sales, so about 25 percent of the sales of the company. And it's an export that people understand.

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, we're about jobs. People understand that this company supports a lot of jobs in Olney, Texas, in a town of about 3,000 people."

Hochberg arrived early Wednesday afternoon and met with Ikert and Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch, who provided an update on how sales have been in areas such as South America, sub-Sahara Africa and China, for example.

But, it's the countries with weaker economies who need assistance with purchasing Air Tractor's products, and the Ex-Im Bank has been the mechanism by which they are able to purchase the airplanes, primarily for agricultural purposes, by underwriting loans. Since fiscal year 2012, Ex-Im Bank estimates it has supported $171.1 million of Air Tractors exports.

Ikert said Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer builds planes for agricultural purposes, and only sells them in Brazil with good financing for their local market.

"So, we're competing with very, very good financing. That's how they sell it; on financing," he said. "But, what y'all do for us gives us enough of a level playing field to let us compete. We're not going to be heads-up, but we've got a better plane and a better product, and with the financing as part of it, we think we can be (compete) there."

Hochberg told the Times Record News that leveling the playing field is one of Ex-Im Bank's responsibilities, as well as help those in some country secure financing when they can't do it locally and purchase goods they need from the United States for their business. He said it's about helping companies like Air Tractor be able to continue building their product, putting people to work and supporting more families .

The chairman said when U.S. manufacturers are making a product, they are assembling components made from other manufacturers in the country. For example, while Air Tractor builds they planes, they aren't making the tires, brakes, propellers and other parts that go on the aircraft. They are buying them from other manufacturers to make the end product.

"We have to remember that when we're exporting, it's not just the jobs here in Olney, it's the supply chain around this country," he said. "It's a deep supply chain and why it's important to keep companies here and keep them exporting from here is because the supply chain is here."

Despite an effort by Congress in 2016 to end the Ex-Im Bank, Hochberg said the agency's charter is good until 2019. President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that more products need to be manufactured in the United States instead of going oversees, he said, which was also a priority for President Barack Obama. The Ex-Im Bank fits into the manufacturing strategies of the White House and the incoming administration.


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