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Ogdensburg roundtable puts business owners in touch with federal funding to increase exports

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OGDENSBURG — Federal lawmakers and the head of the Export-Import Bank of the United States met in the city Friday to discuss ways to export more north country goods north of the border.

Members of the local business community gathered at the Dobisky Visitors Center, overlooking the St. Lawrence River and in view of the United States’ biggest trade partner, to meet with U.S. Sen. E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Fred P. Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Mr. Hochberg said he was excited to be invited to Ogdensburg and hoped that the roundtable meeting heralded a new era of business success in the north country that capitalizes on the region’s proximity to Canada.

In the north country, Mr. Hochberg said, his agency — which is an independent part of the federal government — works with “a handful” of businesses.

“Frankly, not nearly enough, and that’s why we came with the senator. There’s great export potential here,” he said.

The roundtable discussion offered business owners a chance to begin a conversation about how the Export-Import Bank can help jumpstart the region’s economy.

“Sitting right here across the water from Canada we have an export community that’s vast,” Mrs. Gillibrand said. “So it makes a lot of difference for our local businesses to be able to ask [the chair of the bank] how he can help them export their products further.”

The bank provides export credit insurance, loan guarantees and direct loans to businesses of all sizes in order to help lower the cost of entrance into the international market and, ultimately, increase the number of American jobs.

Mr. Hochberg said that often after the bank helps get a small business on its feet, private financing companies come into the picture because the risk has been reduced.

“We often get companies up and running, and once they get large enough the private sector says ‘now there is enough profit we’ll take over,’” he said.

For some in the room at Friday’s meeting, it was the first time they had encountered the small but active federal agency.

Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority Board of Directors Chairman Samuel J. LaMacchia said he was unaware the bank and its assistance programs existed, and said he was interested to learn more about how the bank can help his organization increase activity at the border.

Roxaina Hurlburt, director of marketing at Mercer’s Dairy, Boonville, attended the meeting to see if the bank would be able to help her business overcome a very specific hurdle.

After speaking with representatives from companies in Asia and the Middle East, Mrs. Hurlburt said, she knows there is an international market for the ice cream her company produces. The cost of the right packaging machine, however, is too much for the small business to manage.

Mrs. Hurlburt said most of the countries she is looking to export to want small, Dixie cup-sized ice cream containers while her company is only able to produce pint-sized boxes with their current technology.

“They don’t have any place to put a pint,” she said.

Mrs. Hurlburt said her company is looking to the Export-Import Bank to help them get over the initial hurdle of buying the equipment needed to package smaller portions for the international market. She said it is an investment the private sector has been hesitant to make.

“We’ve got the market. We know how to get it there. We’ve got all the connections, but if you haven’t got what they want you’re out of business,” she said. “We’re not looking for long-term financing because we can finance the machine once we get it running. It’s getting there” that is the issue.

Mr. Hochberg said the best way for area businesses to get in touch with his agency is by logging onto www.exim.gov.

Mrs. Gillibrand said she sees it as her responsibility to “help our local businesses get the resources they need to be successful. A lot of resources are available through the federal government, so if I can make the right introductions it means our businesses can grow.”

“This was a spectacular group, super-energized,” Mr. Hochberg said after the meeting.

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