An Export Boom Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

We tend to think of exporters as big companies, but many small U.S. companies do a terrific job selling abroad. These exporters need to be held up as an example to other small companies who want to export, but arent sure how. If were to take a page out of the fat export order book of the Germans, the success of their Mittelstand requires study. We need to tap the tremendous vitality at this level of the economy.

Thats not happening in Washington. There, the most urgent task is to energize the grab bag of agencies that help promote and finance exports. The Commerce Dept., Small Business Administration, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp., and Agency for International Development should be in the thick of things, but they languish in Washingtons backwater.

In hot export centers such as the Twin Cities and Pittsburgh, one or two Commerce service-officers are expected to handle thousands of would-be exporters. It cant be done. The sba has been a major disappointment, partly because of the penchant in the Bush and Reagan Administrations for dumping political pals there. The Ex-Im Bank is beginning to finance the exports of smaller companies, but a much bigger effort is required. Given todays brutal budget constraints, resources must go where they are needed most. Its pure pork barrel that agricultural programs receive the most funding, even though they account for only 10% of U.S. exports.

In the face of Washingtons near-abdication, the states charged into export promotion in the late 1980s with great enthusiasm, only to be zapped by their own budget crunches. The private sector is still trying, of course. But if federal and state governments would get their act together, we may be able to keep our export boom going.

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