The 2008-2009 recession nearly wiped out Mark Sokolow’s third generation family-owned export business. It was only the beginning of this year, with the backing of the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, that International Trading Group, Inc., in Pembroke Pines, Florida, started to again experience the type of growth that Sokolow had envisioned.
Sokolow’s father started the family business as Gold Coast Equipment in 1948 when he purchased and reconditioned surplus U.S. military truck parts, machinery, and heavy equipment left over from the war and then shipped them to overseas customers. Mark joined his father’s business in 1970, after which the company’s exports had diversified to include building products, liquor and food, including Häagen-Daz ice cream. Today, the six-employee business exports mainly building and construction materials for both commercial and residential projects to buyers throughout the Caribbean and other parts of the world.
ITG had historically extended lines of credit to every one of its overseas buyers without the benefit of an Ex-Im insurance policy but was forced to quit that practice to reduce its risk during the recession. That, and an overall lack of demand, resulted in a 90% drop in business early in the recession.
The firm endured some lean years, but in January 2014, to help spark business, it took out an insurance policy with Ex-Im on payments owed by its customers. Not coincidentally, ITG is projected to grow 60% this year to just under $10 million in annual sales, a remarkable rate of growth that Sokolow attributes to the more attractive payment terms it is able to offer its customers with the backing of Ex-Im.
“Ex-Im makes prudent business expansion possible for us,” he says. “We need trade insurance that only Ex-Im can provide now more than any other time in my forty-plus years of being in business.”
Ex-Im trade financing for ITG customers is also critical to the company’s continued growth. For example, ITG is on the verge of making a $1 million sale to a contractor in Turks and Caicos because of affordable Ex-Im financing made available to the contractor. Says Sokolow, “It gives us another tool to export our US made goods.”
Sokolow doesn’t want to think about what would happen to his family business should Congress fail to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank. “Without Ex-Im, we’d have to stop doing volume business. We’d be forced to withdraw our quotes on big projects, and one-half of our projected growth would disappear.”