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Heitkamp: Export-Import Bank crucial for North Dakota businesses

WAHPETON, N.D. -- The head of a Wahpeton-based company that employs about 200 people said the operation could lose as much as 60 percent of its workers if Congress doesn't reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

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Thomas Shorma, CEO and president of WCCO Belting in Wahpeton, meets with U.S.Sen. Heidi Heitkamp about the Export-Import Bank this week in Wahpeton. (Forum News Service photo by Dave Olson)

WAHPETON, N.D. -- The head of a Wahpeton-based company that employs about 200 people said the operation could lose as much as 60 percent of its workers if Congress doesn't reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

For more than 10 years, the Export-Import Bank has helped WCCO Belting and other North Dakota businesses by guaranteeing they will be paid when they export goods, said Thomas Shorma, CEO and president of WCCO Belting.

Without that risk reduction, Shorma said WCCO would likely not do as much business overseas and, "We would stand to lose as much as 60 percent of our team."

He made his comments Tuesday, when he hosted a visit from U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a leader in efforts to save the Export-Import Bank in Congress, which in June let the bank expire for the first time in its 81-year history.

Congress is now negotiating a compromise long-term transportation bill and Heitkamp is working to include an Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill in the legislation.

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WCCO Belting is a family-owned business that produces various types of conveyer belts and other products used in farm equipment.

The Export-Import Bank is an independent federal agency and the official export credit agency of the United States. Among things the agency does is provide loans, loan guarantees and insurance to facilitate overseas sales by U.S. firms.

Since 2012, the Export-Import Bank has supported $27 million in sales from North Dakota companies, according to Heitkamp's office. Heitkamp said the bank's services are particularly helpful to small businesses like WCCO Belting, which want to expand abroad but run the risk of going under if they're not paid for their products in a timely manner.

After touring WCCO Belting on Tuesday, Heitkamp said she was reminded of why the Export-Import Bank is important.

"The faces I think about when we fight for the bank are the faces of those employees who are working on that factory floor making the best belts in the world," Heitkamp said. "It (the shutdown of the bank) doesn't just affect American exports. This affects American workers."

Shorma said that from a taxpayer perspective the Export-Import Bank is self-supporting and actually produces a profit of sorts for the U.S. Treasury.

He said lawmakers opposed to the Export-Import Bank often describe it as corporate welfare because very large businesses can use its services. But he said that when large corporations do more business overseas, it stimulates economic activity for smaller businesses like WCCO Belting.

"It's all of us guys who benefit from their export sales," Shorma said.

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Heitkamp said given the support the Export-Import Bank has received since authorization was discontinued, she's confident Congress will reauthorize the agency before the end of the year.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMP
I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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