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Maine firm could be model for federal export program

Auburn Manufacturing Inc. has faced aggressive Chinese competition amid the COVID-19 struggles and now sells products in 30 countries.

AUBURN, Maine — Kathie Leonard smiled as she led a tour of her warehouse on Wednesday.

Unless her guests were within a few feet of her, her voice could not be heard over the din of nearby weaving machines.

For Leonard, noise was a beautiful orchestra. This meant its shelves were filling with textiles, with trucks soon to follow – bringing goods to customers in the United States and to ports, which would transport them to 30 countries.

It was a particularly welcome sound because navigating the business world for the past six years or so had been like walking on a tightrope for the CEO of Auburn Manufacturing Incorporated, or AMI.

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“We’re fine,” she said, shrugging. “It’s still a climb – not a battle, but there are some skirmishes.”

Skirmishes, like taking on the Chinese government.

AMI manufactures precious textiles that are woven, sewn or painted to insulate against extreme heat. Leonard and the U.S. Department of Commerce found that Chinese companies were selling similar products in the United States at a price the department considered unfairly below market value, and it imposed duties against China in 2017.

Then COVID-19 arrived just as AMI was bouncing back.

On Wednesday, Senator Angus King, I-Maine, and Judith Pryor, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the US, or EX-IM, toured the warehouse to talk about the resources available to help businesses like AMI thrive. a global scale.

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The Federal Bank has just launched what it calls the “Make More in America Initiative” and aims to help businesses thrive through loans and insurance that support almost any potential sales fund in international transactions.

This means Leonard can make sales with confidence and without requiring all the money up front.

“We go all the way to India to send products, and it’s nice that we can have a relationship where we can sell them, just like we would here in the United States, and provide terms, terms of payment” , she explained. “They don’t have to pay upfront and in the past that’s what we should have done, and it never felt right to me.”

AMI employs 50 Mainers at two sites. Business owners can apply for the federal program here.

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