Build S.C. ‘firewall’ to protect Ex-Im Bank

A man walks out of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

For the conservative groups and Republican presidential candidates that are opposed to the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), the chickens are coming home to roost, and it is costing South Carolina jobs.

According to The Wall Street Journal, GE recently said “it would transfer the 500 jobs mainly to Europe over the next year to field competitive bids for turbines and other industrial equipment with financing from foreign export credit agencies. The job losses will come from facilities in Texas, South Carolina, New York and Maine.”

And this is just the beginning. These are the ramifications of the bank’s expiration after three months.

The picture will be much more drastic after three years.

Ex-Im is a small federal agency that promotes U.S. jobs by supplying financing for the export of American goods. Ex-Im provides for thousands of jobs and livelihoods across South Carolina. The program even pays for itself, which helps to pay down the nation’s ballooning deficit. It is shocking that a few outside groups have been able to solidify opposition to Ex-Im as a conservative litmus test, particularly because jobs and deficit reduction are true conservative principles, and Ex-Im provides both.

Even more shocking are the presidential candidates who come to the state asking for support first from the people of South Carolina and, second, from the governor, while opposing such a vital piece of the state’s economy.

South Carolina is home to the third Republican presidential primary, a popular governor with a national following and a sitting U.S. senator who is also a presidential candidate. Both the governor and senator are in adamant support of the bank. For Gov. Haley and Sen. Graham, this isn’t about a conservative talking point but about the thousands of livelihoods in S.C. supported by employers who rely on Ex-Im funding. GE directly employs more than 4,000 South Carolinians, not to mention supporting many more among its vendors and suppliers. Boeing employs almost 8,000 people in South Carolina and works with more than 300 vendors across the state.

According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition: “Since 2007, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has financed over $3.3 billion in exports from 82 companies in 41 communities in South Carolina.” Extrapolate those numbers out by household, adding in spouses of employees and children, and there are tens of thousands of people in South Carolina whose livelihoods depend on just GE and Boeing alone. GE, Boeing and 80 other companies in South Carolina depend on Ex-Im to compete in the global marketplace. That means tens of thousands of South Carolinians purchase school supplies, save for retirement and put supper on the table with the assistance of Ex-Im Bank.

Any political analyst worth his salt knows you have to support ethanol if you want to win Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus. This should be true for Ex-Im in S.C., which is just as important to the state’s economy as ethanol is to Iowa. To their credit, Iowans recognized the opportunity presented by the gravity of their positon in the presidential primary and leveraged it into massive support for the issue of ethanol nationally. Iowans did this by making opposition to ethanol an untenable position for presidential contenders wooing voters. South Carolina should replicate this model with Ex-Im.

It recently was reported that GE rejected an invitation to move its corporate headquarters from Connecticut to Cincinnati, Ohio. While GE hasn’t fully expounded its reasoning, the writing is on wall. High-profile Republicans in the state — such as Gov. John Kasich (a presidential candidate) and Congressman Jim Jordan — are looking to kill Ex-Im Bank. GE spokesman Rick Kennedy all but confirmed that it was driven by Ohio Republicans’ opposition to the bank, pointing out that the fight has “been a highly troublesome matter for us.” Clearly, Ex-Im is so fundamental to GE’s bottom line that they are willing to eschew the state in which CEO Jeff Immelt was born.

If GE, Boeing or any others want to change the national dialogue around the Ex-Im Bank, then set up a firewall of support for the bank in S.C.

S.C. voters deserve an explanation from presidential candidates who ask for support but oppose their jobs and livelihood. Those two things — support from S.C. and opposition to Ex-Im — should be mutually exclusive. Abortion, gun rights, the Charleston port and the economy are all important issues, but none will so directly and immediately affect the daily lives of South Carolinians as closing Ex-Im Bank.

GE has already taken an important first step, but it’s imperative that every South Carolinian help carry the torch in support of the countless families that rely on Ex-Im supported jobs.

Support for Ex-Im should be the pivotal issue for the state and those candidates seeking its votes. Ex-Im needs a firewall, and that firewall is South Carolina.

Stephen Aaron is a vice president at LEVICK, a Washington-based communications firm. He is a South Carolina native and Clemson graduate.