GE chief says he’d move jobs if Ex-Im isn’t re-authorized
Source: Greenville Online
June 19, 2015
Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric Co., is playing hard ball with congressmen such as Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.
Caught in the crossfire are more than 3,000 GE jobs in Greenville.
Immelt is among the U.S. business leaders who want Congress to re-authorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
That arm of the federal government finances export deals of American companies, including some of the overseas sales of the power turbines that GE designs and makes in Greenville.
Congressional authorization for the bank will expire at the end of the month unless Congress votes to renew it.
Like some other Republicans, Duncan thinks export financing is generally a matter for the private sector, not the federal government.
He voted against re-authorizing the bank in 2012, setting aside objections that the United States shouldn’t abandon the program when so many other countries have their own versions.
With the deadline for bank re-authorization approaching again, opponents and proponents are battling it out.
Immelt raised the stakes on Wednesday, saying GE would move U.S. jobs to Canada or Europe rather than lose business for a lack of export financing.
Immelt said at The Economic Club in Washington, DC, that 27 countries require companies to offer financing such as that provided by the Export-Import Bank “just to bid on a large infrastructure project.”
If Congress fails to re-authorize the bank, GE would be “left to make choices of our own,” Immelt said.
“Because we’re not going to lose this business,” he said. “We’ll build these products in places where export financing is available because we have to.
“What happens then? Good GE jobs in the United States will be moved to Canada and Europe. That’s a mighty high price to pay for ideological purity, and it doesn’t fit my idea of a national strategy for growth and jobs.”
Presumably, Immelt’s comments apply to more than 3,000 people who work at GE’s engineering-and-manufacturing complex on Garlington Road designing and manufacturing heavy-duty power turbines.
Eighty percent of the Greenville-made turbines are sold overseas, and customers use Export-Import financing in 30 percent of those deals, said Louise Mariani, a local spokeswoman for the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate.
GE employs more than 700 other South Carolinians at a jet engine parts factory in southern Greenville County and a medical imaging plant in Florence.
Those factories are part of GE business units that also strike export deals involving the federal bank, Mariani said.
Immelt also spoke out in favor of giving the Obama administration authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade pact between 12 western and Asian nations.
He said GE going forward would consider investing only in places “where local and state leaders understand the global market place and the realities, the realities, of competition that our businesses and workers face.”
“If you are against trade and exporters, you are against our employees, you’re against our suppliers, and we’re not going to invest in your state,” he said.
Duncan, whose Third Congressional District, includes much of southern Greenville County, voted against giving the administration Trade Promotion Authority on Thursday. The measure passed the House anyway with lots of Republican support.
Duncan said in a statement following the vote that he supports free trade “when we’ve negotiated a fair deal. I have problems with us passing legislation that fast-tracks a future trade agreement that is being kept from the public and is currently only available to Congress in an unfinished, classified form.”
About the Export-Import Bank, Duncan’s spokesman, Allen Klump, said the congressman would carefully review any final language to re-authorize the bank when it becomes available “and make a decision at that time.”
The other U.S. House member who represents Greenville County, Trey Gowdy, supports Trade Promotion Authority though he has not taken a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, said Amanda Duvall, his spokeswoman.
She said Gowdy has supported the Export-Import Bank in the past, but has not said how he’d vote on future re-authorization and called for reforms at a recent hearing.
Ted Pitts, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, which wants the bank re-authorized, said he doesn’t think Immelt would classify South Carolina as a state that’s “against trade and exporters” since most of its high officials support the Export-Import Bank.
Those include Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and every U.S. House member, Democrat or Republican, except Duncan and Mick Mulvaney, the Fifth District congressman, Pitts said.
“I think South Carolina’s business and political leaders understand how important Ex-Im is to the competitiveness of our manufacturers,” he said.
A Mulvaney spokesman didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for the congressman’s reasoning on the issue.
Immelt also said in his talk that greater economic growth would solve many U.S. problems such as reducing the federal budget deficit.
He also urged the United States “to own the future of manufacturing.”
“American manufacturing is coming back, and that could produce the middle class for a whole new generation,” Immelt said.
“I’ve worked for GE for 33 years and I have never seen a time when the U.S. has been more competitive in manufacturing than we are today.”