Idled Ex-Im bank prompting GE to move 500 jobs in 4 states overseas

The U.S. Export-Import Bank expired this summer.

Industrial giant General Electric said it’s being forced to shift 500 jobs overseas from four states, including South Carolina, because lawmakers allowed the U.S. Export-Import Bank to expire earlier this summer.

The work is tied to GE’s power industry business, which has a plant in Greenville that ships gas turbines to buyers abroad through the Port of Charleston.

“We do not make today’s announcements lightly, and in fact, have done everything in our power to avoid making these moves at all, but Congress left us no choice when it failed to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank this summer,” John Rice, GE’s vice chairman, said in a statement Tuesday. “We know this will have an impact not only on our employees but on the hundreds of U.S. suppliers we work with that cannot move their facilities, but we cannot walk away from our customers.”

GE said it is bidding on overseas energy deals valued at $11 billion that require export financing. It said it reached an agreement with a French lender to provide a line of credit for its global power projects.

The company said the terms of the deal require GE to move final assembly of certain power turbines from the U.S. to Hungary and China. Others jobs will be relocated to France. The affected states are South Carolina, Texas, Maine and New York.

A company spokeswoman could not be reached for comment about the number of workers who would be affected in the Palmetto State. Media outlets reported that the GE jobs figure reflected positions it would have otherwise added in the U.S.

“With no U.S. export financing available, GE must pursue non-U.S. options. ... This will result in the loss of thousands of U.S. jobs — both at GE and at our suppliers,” the company said in its written statement.

GE also called on Congress to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.

Jim Newsome, chief executive officer of the State Ports Authority, said it was too early to gauge the impact of GE’s decision on the Port of Charleston.

“This is a consequence of the Ex-Im Bank, and they warned this would happen,” Newsome said at the S.C. International Trade Conference taking place this week on the Isle of Palms. “We really wish the Ex-Im Bank would be reauthorized because it does a great service.”

The agency provides loans and loan guarantees to foreign companies that buy U.S.-made exports.

Lawmakers could not reach an agreement to resurrect the bank’s charter, which expired July 1, before going on summer recess. While a majority of Congress supports the lender, conservative Republicans fought reauthorization, calling the bank an example of crony capitalism and corporate welfare.

GE is the first big company to publicly announce that it is moving jobs over the idled bank. At least one other major U.S. employer has been rattling its saber.

Jim McNerney, Boeing Co.’s chairman, told the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., in July that he was “beginning to question the strategy of making and designing everything in the United States.”

Boeing makes the 787 in North Charleston.

McNerney, who stepped down as CEO of the aerospace giant on July 1, said the refusal by Congress to reauthorize the bank hurts America’s ability to compete with overseas manufacturers.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D.-Conn., a supporter of the Ex-Im Bank, said the refusal by Republicans to back the moneymaking federal agency is taking a toll.

“This is not a political parlor game in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They’ve run the numbers and there’s nothing out there that even comes close to what they’ve been getting from Ex-Im for decades.”

Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, tied GE’s shift to Europe for capital to its dispute with Connecticut officials over increased business taxes. He also cited GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s role as chairman of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

“It’s troubling that the head of President Obama’s Jobs Council is announcing GE is leaving Connecticut because the state’s taxes are too high and is choosing to send jobs overseas because U.S. taxpayer-provided subsidies are too low,” he said.

The Associated Press and David Wren of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.