On January 25, 2008 I asked a question to three global business experts to get their responses. The question concerned the availability of funding to U.S. small businesses that export to other countries. A lot has changed since then, but the experts’ answers are still valid.
Question: Do you think the Export Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) will cut back or be more willing to extend loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that qualify on exports this year in light of a possible recession?
I asked the question of Chad Moutray of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy; Harvey Bronstein of the Small Business Administration; and Tess Morrison, of the Illinois International Trade Center, University of Illinois.
Interestingly, the talk really turned to a more general one of whether we were in a recession, the current business climate, and how small businesses should react.
At the risk of putting words in anyone’s mouths, I think I can safely say that all more or less agreed “conduct your business as usual and keep looking for opportunities, because opportunities are all around you.”
Here are the specific answers:
(1) Chad Moutray, Chief Economist and Director of Economic Research, U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy.
Answer: “Small businesses are increasingly sophisticated global players who are able to spot opportunities, whether these are found in their local communities or across the globe. The depreciated dollar has given entrepreneurs — many of whom had not looked at the export market before — a golden opportunity to pursue sales abroad.”
Regarding the possibility of a downturn, Moutray referred us to this study (be prepared for an immediate PDF file download) by Craig and Kohlhase that had been released in December 2006. Note the research summary’s overall finding: Small firms play a vital role in maintaining economic growth in urban areas.
Moutray does not follow the movings of the Ex-Im Bank so there was no comment on the loan policy.
(2) Harvey Bronstein, Senior International Economist, U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington, D.C.
Answer: “As far as Ex-Im Bank, you’ll have to talk with them.
As far as recession, the U.S. is not in a recession, which is commonly defined as two quarters, that is a period of six months, over which the size of the U.S. economy actually shrinks. For the third quarter of 2007, that is through Sept. 30, the economy actually grew almost 5%, far above the long-term average growth rate of the economy. Although growth will almost certainly be slower in the fourth quarter of 2007 than it was for the earlier part of the year, one quarter of slow growth does not equal “recession.”
Concerning job creation, small businesses often create well over one-half of all net new jobs in the economy. Please refer to the link below on our website:
6. How many new jobs do small firms create?
Over the past decade, small businesses created 60 to 80 percent of the net new jobs. In the most recent year with data (2004), small firms accounted for all of the net new jobs. Firms with fewer than 500 employees had a net gain of 1.86 million new jobs. Large firms with 500 or more employees lost more jobs than they created, for a net loss of 181,122 jobs. For information on employment dynamics by firm size from 1989 to 2004, see http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/data.html#us.
On small business and exporting, 2007 will be a record year with small businesses racking up over $400 billion in exports. While in the third quarter of 2007 the economy grew 5%, exports grew by 19%. So long as the dollar remains weak and other countries’ economies strong, the outlook for exports is bright.”
(3) Tess Morrison, Director, Illinois International Trade Center, University of Illinois, College of Business, Champaign, Illinois.
Answer: “Ex-Im (and SBA) will NOT cut back for SMEs, whether or not there is a recession. Ex-Im is committed to serving at least 20% of their business as SMEs.All companies need to adhere to the financial guidelines, but they have as much to do with the buyers as the sellers. Ex-Im must (by law) act as a bank. For example, they can only do business where there is a reasonable expectation of repayment. The onus is on the buyer. Otherwise, we, the U.S. taxpayer has to pick up the slack. Ex-Im looks at the seller to make certain that they do not appear about to go under (to give an excuse to not repay by the buyer.) Ex-Im is committed to SMEs.”
Delaney (clarification question):
So Ex-Im will not be in the same league as all the other banks on being super cautious with loans to SMEs due to the mortgage meltdown?
“That’s correct. They don’t do the same kind of lending as regular banks. Their focus is on the buyer being able to repay so that we the U.S. taxpayer isn’t stuck with the repayment.”
* * * * *
In closing, I can say that the weak dollar makes exports look attractive to buyers in other countries; there will be funding from the Ex-Im Bank available; and no matter what, your small business has the potential to impact the economy in a positive way by continuing to do business and do it well.
In the meantime, get going on those exports!
* * * * *
Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com. She is also the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter and The Global Small Business Blog, both of which are well known for covering global small business.