Aug. 20--Six emergency vehicles are about to make a 60-day journey from Chippewa Falls to Nigeria.
The delivery will complete a deal W.S. Darley secured with the help of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Darley, based in Itasca, Ill., houses much of its production in Chippewa Falls and is supplying 32 firefighting vehicles and two service and support vehicles. Ex-Im Bank provided a loan of nearly $16 million to the state government of Lagos, Nigeria, to finance the purchase.
"They're a big help to small businesses like W.S. Darley," said Jeff Darley, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the company. "Opportunities like this wouldn't be possible without funding through Ex-Im Bank."
Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg took a quick tour of Darley Tuesday before speaking at a Global Access Forum in Eau Claire at Chippewa Valley Technical College. The bank is an independent federal agency based in Washington, D.C., that provides a variety of financial tools to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services.
Darley was founded in 1908 and has grown its annual sales to about $160 million, roughly 40 percent of which is through exporting. The company has more than 6,000 firefighting pumps and 200 fire trucks in China alone, Jeff Darley said.
Exporting is critical for American businesses, Hochberg said, because 95 percent of the world's customers live outside the U.S. He cited the "Made in the USA" brand as a key to increasing overseas sales. America's products and innovation are trusted globally, he said, but exports account for only 13 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.
"People want to do business with American companies," Hochberg said.
In Wisconsin, exports totaled around $23.1 billion in 2013, which was relatively flat compared with the previous year. U.S. Rep Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who also spoke at the Global Access Forum, said agencies such as Ex-Im Bank help American companies "compete on an uneven playing field."
Ex-Im Bank has been criticized for its financing of large U.S. companies and is in danger of not being reauthorized this fall. Hochberg, however, noted that the bank is involved with a small percentage of such companies' transactions and that their fate affects numerous small businesses in their supply chains. About 90 percent of Ex-Im bank's deals involve small businesses.
"We're shutting ourselves off from more market opportunities" without the bank, Kind said.
He said Wisconsin has a strong medical device industry but that there is a limit to domestic sales. He cited a significant increase in the state's dairy exports as an example of the growth that is possible.
Ex-Im Bank can help companies "create those relationships and show how to get the deal done," Kind said.
Regarding export opportunities for U.S. goods and services, Hochberg said sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are growing markets. Educating business owners about available resources, he said, is an ongoing task.
"Small-business owners often don't seek help, they don't think in those terms," Hochberg said. "But when you're selling overseas, it's kind of hard to do it alone."
Darley, which is in its third generation as a family-run company, is seeing its partnership pay off. Last week another deal was secured through the Ex-Im Bank for 17 more Darley fire trucks that are destined for China.
Marlaire can be reached at 715-833-9215, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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