One of the world’s most celebrated pilots, Amelia Earhart, once explained that the reason she chose to explore the skies was to produce practical results “for the women who may want to fly tomorrow’s planes.” Of course, during Earhart’s lifetime, it was almost as rare to find a woman at the helm of an American business as it was to find a woman in the cockpit of an airplane. But thanks to the hard work and enterprising spirit of generations of female pioneers, today women aren’t merely flying planes—they’re building, buying, and selling them, too.
As the son of a proud American businesswoman, I’ve had a front row seat to that progress. My mother, Lillian Vernon, was a German immigrant who started her retail business from our kitchen table; growing up, I learned firsthand what it was like for female business owners to struggle and, ultimately, succeed. That experience is something I keep in mind every time I meet with women entrepreneurs here in America and around the world, and discuss ways to empower them in the global market and help their businesses grow.
At the Export-Import Bank, we’re supporting American businesswomen as they continue to conquer new frontiers. Last year, we helped a record number of women-owned businesses reach new customers around the world and create new jobs here at home. Since 2010, our authorizations for women-owned businesses have jumped 33% to reach historic highs. And 2013 saw the highest percentage in our 80-year history of authorizations going towards businesses primarily owned by women.
One of those businesses belongs to Jenny Fulton, the co-founder of Miss Jenny’s Pickles in Kernersville, NC. Like so many small business owners, Jenny knew she had a great product—but credit obstacles kept her business from reaching its global potential. After teaming up with the Export-Import Bank, however, Jenny gained the financial security she needed to ship her pickles to customers around the world. Today, pickle lovers from Canada to China are enjoying her product—and 10 more employees are drawing a paycheck in North Carolina.
Jenny’s story is what the Export-Import Bank is all about—and Jenny isn’t alone. We’re supporting hundreds of women-owned businesses each year as they seek to reach new customers. Because of the partnerships we’ve forged, Susan Axelrod has taken her desserts from Long Island to Saudi Arabia. Lisa Howlett’s leather company has gone from serving customers in western Kentucky to serving customers in Hong Kong. Nancy Mercolino now sends her aluminum and wood ceilings from California to Qatar. And the international success enjoyed by all of these women has translated into new jobs for American workers.
We know that women will be one of the most important engines of economic growth here in the U.S. and across the globe in the years to come. In fact, they already are. If America’s women-owned businesses were to form their own country today, that country would have the world’s fifth-largest GDP. And by 2018, more than half of American small business jobs being created will be from women-owned firms.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and look back on the remarkable accomplishments of our female innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates, and pioneers, we also celebrate the bright future ahead. And here at the Export-Import Bank, we’ll continue to break down financing barriers and support women as they expand their customer bases, create American jobs, and propel their businesses to new heights.
Fred Hochberg is the Chairman and President of Export-Import Bank.