HOUSTON / ATLANTA / MONROVIA

Honorable Reta Jo Lewis

President and Board Chair
Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM)

Pushing the Biden-Harris Agenda Forward for America

Interview conducted by Honorable Cynthia L. Blandford
Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief: I am so very delighted to interview the Honorable Rita Jo Lewis, President and Board Chair of EXIM Bank. Welcome to the virtual interview from Atlanta, Georgia.

Hon. Reta Jo Lewis: Thank you so much. It is always an honor to talk with you, Cynthia. It was really nice meeting you in Atlanta, and looking forward to seeing you soon in Dallas, Texas, at the Corporate Council on Africa’s (CCA) Annual Meeting.

Editor-in-Chief: Likewise, it was such an honor and a pleasure to have met you in Atlanta in March during the Atlanta Phambili: A Trade & Investment Gateway to Africa & South Africa Trade and Innovation Forum with His Excellency Ambassador Ruben Brigety, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Prosper Africa’s Coordinator British Robinson and USTDA’s Director Enoh Ebong.   In light of your very busy schedule, thank you for agreeing to this interview today.

Hon. Reta Jo Lewis became the first African America woman to head EXIM since its founding in 1934. Hon. Lewis was sworn in as EXIM’s President and Chair by Vice President of the United States Hon. Kamala Harris on February 16, 2022. The ceremony took place at the Vice President’s ceremonial office at the White House in Washington, D.C. 

Hon. Lewis has over 25 years of leadership experience in international affairs, legal, public policy, business, and regulatory affairs, and subnational diplomacy.

Q: As the first African-America women to head EXIM since its founding, please share with us a little about yourself and your background and what you consider to be the most important aspect of your work.

A: Well, first of all, thank you, Cynthia. It is definitely an honor to serve and have been appointed by President Biden to serve in this role as the 27th president of the Export Import Bank of the United States. We actually celebrated in February 2024 our 90th anniversary. Having the ability to serve as the President and Chair of an organization whose mission it is to facilitate exports and support U.S. jobs is really important. EXIM as an institution has been helping businesses of all sizes grow and expand through exports and in turn supporting good-paying jobs. And right now, it is critical, in terms of where we are on the President’s agenda, to be supporting jobs and helping all of our companies as our economy continues to grow.

Meeting with President of Angola

Keynote Speaker at Amcham Business Summit, Kenya

Angola Trade Show

Miami University Visit

Miami Dade County College Gamechanger

Q: The Export Import Bank of the United States is an independent federal government agency that has been in existence, as you mentioned, since 1934. As the official export credit agency for the United State, EXIM’s mission is to support American jobs by financing the export of goods and services from the United States to international markets. EXIM meets this mission by providing loans and guarantees and insurance products on market-based credit terms.

Madam Chair, as EXIM celebrates 90 years, what are a few of your main objectives as President and Board Chair at EXIM?

A: I’m the daughter of a small business owner, and I grew up in small town USA, Statesboro, Georgia. I have been supporting U.S. business throughout my career. Whether it has been as a lawyer or working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and so many other types of institutions. So, as I look at some of our proudest moments, I think it has been with the mandate of what Congress has asked us to do.  The fact that we are fulfilling that mandate by making more financing available, whether it is for small businesses, particularly around women and underserved communities, making more financing available in the renewable energy space, climate, energy efficiency, energy storage, making more financing available in Sub Saharan Africa, is a focal area of EXIM.

I mention these mandates and say that I am proud that over the two plus years serving as President & Board Chair, we have been really making the type of financing available that show how companies can grow and expand. But also from a mandate perspective, when you look at the work that we recently did in Angola when the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) approved a direct loan for more than $900 million to the Ministry of Energy and Water of the Republic of Angola to support the construction of two photovoltaic solar energy power plants in the country. The project will generate over 500 megawatts of renewable power; provide access to clean energy resources across Angola; help Angola meet its climate commitments; and support exports of U.S. solar panel mounting systems, connectors, switches, sensors, and other equipment. The transaction is estimated to support 1,600 jobs.

The project — initially announced during the 2022 G7 Summit by the Government of Angola, U.S. firm AfricaGlobal Schaffer, and U.S. project developer Sun Africa – advances President Biden’s flagship Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), which aims to advance digital and energy infrastructure worldwide.

I am also proud of the work that we have done in the last 10 years where we have supported over $12Bilion in transactions in Sub Saharan Africa. We are particularly excited about the work that we have done in emerging economies, and I have been very fortunate that this work to date has allowed us to continue to fulfill our mandate, not only in the renewable energy side, but also in other work that we are doing in Sub Saharan Africa.

Q: Well, I’m so excited to hear about EXIM’s work in Angola. It just so happens that my other company, Blandford Thompson Consulting, LLC, in collaboration with Houston International Development Council (HITDC)’s President, Mr. Val Thompsom, are planning a trade mission to Angola and Zambia later in 2024. Perhaps you can join us on this trade mission. 

A: I am excited to hear about your trade mission trip to Angola. I also traveled to Zambia last year with Vice President Harris where we participated in a roundtable focused on digital infrastructure. This year at the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), we will be making a few  announcements regarding Angola and our continued commitment.

Trade missions are really important. I have actually traveled, I think, seven times to over five countries in Africa. Trade missions are very important. I think the type of projects that EXIM is doing and have done epitomize not only EXIM’s commitment, but more importantly, President Biden’s commitment.

Q: Madame President, what are some of the future goals for EXIM Bank that you would like to expound upon?

A: Well, along with our mandate, I am very excited that we have had some significant success in the work that we have been doing with SMEs, who are out there providing services.

EXIM awarded eight EXIM customers representing the diversity of American exports and innovation as its Exporters of the Year at its 2023 Annual Conference.

I was very honored to have awarded a company out of Indiana called BNutty located in Portage, Indiana.  BNutty is a woman-owned company that was founded as a result of two moms’ shared desire to provide a healthy snack solution for their kids. Seven years into business, the founders are utilizing EXIM insurance to mitigate risk from international buyers. BNutty now exports across the globe with customers in Hong Kong, South Korea and the Philippines.

EXIM just celebrated their 25th year of the opening of the minority and women-owned businesses (MWOBs) office that deals with minority business. EXIM Bank provides support through our dedicated group of specialists that work exclusively with MWOBs. This team provides hands-on guidance on how to qualify and offers advice on trade finance that levels the playing field with foreign competition.

Our MWOBs also provides education, outreach and support to small businesses, which also include minorities, women owned business, veteran owned business, LGBTQ, rural communities, and the like. We wanted to ensure that our small businesses understand that our tools are there for them. We recognize the challenges that SMEs have, especially in accessing capital.

In our continuing commitment to advancing equity, and inclusion and accessibility, a couple of couple weeks ago, we launched a new product that we believe is very innovative.

 

It is called the Equity Express Select with a focus on export credit and insurance policy. This will  be another tool in our tool kit that will be specific for underserved business communities, and  it is the first ever product of its kind designed to support and empower SMEs so that they can grow their businesses. So, when you talk about efforts like that and other initiatives we have, I am excited about how we are  able to dedicate resources specifically to this targeted market. Our team is able to guide these companies through every step of the application process, explain policy benefits, review qualifications, and help them address any concerns that they might have along the way. I am very excited about this new export tool kit. Last year, when we had authorized over $8.7Billion, $2Billion of those funds were for SME transactions in America for small businesses.

So, we want to keep the focus on SMEs not just because it is our mandate but, because this is what we do. I am also excited about another new initiative that we have recently launched “Make More in America,” (MMIA). The “MMIA” initiative is one whereby we are able to provide our loans, loan guarantees, our insurance products to either U.S. exporters or their buyers abroad who want to facilitate the exports of U.S. goods and services. This is the first time on America’s soil that a U.S. agency is able to provide financing to export domestic manufacturing products. And so, it is open to all sectors. It has additional incentives for priority areas like small business, semiconductors, renewable energy, etc.

I am proud to say that we have also authorized three deals on this initiative. I was thrilled to award our first-ever Make More in America Deal of the Year Award to a Pennsylvania company Aquatech, at $4.7Million, said EXIM President and Chair Reta Jo Lewis. This deal exemplifies how our Make More in America initiative can support American manufacturers and highlights EXIM’s efforts to advance key Biden-Harris Administration priorities to restore good paying jobs and bolster American manufacturing, all while helping U.S. companies grow through exporting. We just did another deal of $170M for a company called Beta Technologies, a Vermont-based small business focused on clean energy and then most recently, we did a deal for $51M for a company called Packwell, Inc. to support the construction of a packaging and warehouse facility in Houston, Texas.

So, I’m really excited about these different areas.  It continues to allow us to provide financing and to offer assistance to companies who are exporting goods and services to support good paying jobs and to stimulate our economies right here at home.

Q: Madame President are their workshops that are currently being offered to the community and how do people have an opportunity to link in and leverage these exciting opportunities.

A: I am so glad you asked this question, because we regularly conduct what we call our EXIM one-on-one sessions where we are able to walk groups or potential customers through our products and our application process.

We also regularly attend trade shows across the country. People can also visit our website at www.EXIM.GOV  where there is detailed information on products that we can provide.

Finally, this year, in June, we will be hosting our annual conference at the Washington Hilton, in Washington, D.C., whereby potential customers and people can attend and talk to not only EXIM business specialists and underwriters, but also other members from the government that have unique experience in these areas, the banking and insurance communities and other exporters like themselves. We cohost sessions all the time, and we are always looking to cohost and cobrand opportunities or opportunities for our regional teams. We have thirteen regional teams around the country who can also connect with organizations and trade shows and have them come to speak about opportunities to access EXIM financing and services.

Q: As you are aware, the Houston International Trade Development Council (HITDC) will be hosting their Pivot to Africa series on July 10-11, 2024, in Houston, Texas, with a focus on the Republic of Liberia.  We have invited the  Minister of Commerce and Industry from Liberia and other high-ranking delegates from Liberia, Prosper Africa and USTDA and the keynote speaker will be Honorable Thomas Bruns, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Two-Way Trade and Investment Middle East & Africa. We would like to invite you to be a speaker at this event and hope that your schedule will permit.

A: Sounds great! We are looking forward to it.

Q: As we close out the interview today, is there anything else you’d like to say at this time?

A: With the work that EXIM is doing in the Biden-Harris administration, we are really excited to be able to have conversations and dialogue with you Cynthia and with International Focus (iF) Magazine who have their eyes squarely on all things international, especially all things Africa.

EIXM is all over the world. We are north, south, east, west, and we are looking for those who do not know much about us. We welcome the chance to work with them, their audiences, or potential exporters or current exporters and share the tools and resources we have to help their businesses not only to compete, but also to win in the global marketplace.

Q: I am so excited, and we are looking forward to seeing you at the CCA conference and making introductions to some of our friends in Liberia, including His Excellency Joseph N, Boakai, Sr., the President of the Republic of Liberia and others.

Honorable Rita Jo Lewis, EXIM President and Board Chair, we very much appreciate your time, your talent and your enthusiasm about the work that you are doing for the President’s agenda and for businesses in the United States and around the world. Thank you so very much and have a wonderful rest of your day.

A: You are most welcome. See you in Dallas!

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