Kimberly Reed has a big job in Washington: president and chairman of the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the official export credit agency (ECA) of the United States, known colloquially simply as EXIM. Reed is the first woman to hold this job.
Despite her VIP status in Washington, the 48-year-old Buckhannon, West Virginia native remains grounded in the values of her home state, where her family has deep political roots. She wore her Golden Horseshoe pin, awarded to her in the eighth grade for her knowledge of West Virginia history, when she was sworn in as head of EXIM by President Trump and Vice President Pence in the Oval Office.
Reed’s father, Terry Reed, was a special assistant to the late Republican Governor Arch Moore (by the way, the father of current West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito) when Reed was a toddler.
Reed grew up on a farm and credits the 4-H with helping her develop confidence.
“When I was born,” Reed laughs, “the first word out of my mouth was the word ‘more,’ and my Dad of course spins that to mean M-o-o-r-e, whereas I wanted to say more food and more, more, more, more.”
West Virginia was a largely Democratic state until the 1990s, but Reed’s grandmother, Avis Reed, who stepped in when Reed’s mother died when Reed was in the fourth grade, was a staunch Republican. She regularly took her granddaughter to Lincoln Day dinners and other GOP events. Reed grew up on a farm and credits the 4-H with helping her develop confidence.
President Trump nominated Reed, who has a law degree from West Virginia University College of Law and worked as a senior advisor to U.S. Treasury Secretaries John W. Snow and Henry Paulson, for her current post and she was sworn in last year.
Established during the Great Depression, EXIM is not universally loved. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, for example, has charged that it benefits wealthy and well-connected companies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, argues that EXIM is a valuable tool for small and medium-size businesses. There are 113 ECAs in the world, and the Chamber says the U.S. ECA—EXIM—helps U.S. companies compete in the global economy and support U.S. jobs through exports.
Because EXIM didn’t have a quorum on the board, it was in effect shuttered until President Trump’s three nominees to the board (including Reed) were confirmed by the Senate last May. The board was then able to act on around $40 billion in projects in the pipeline. EXIM subsequently was reauthorized for seven more years, the longest reauthorization in EXIM’s 86-year history.
“The President of the United States was against EXIM when he was running for election,” Reed tells IWF. “And there are a lot of conservative free market folks who oppose EXIM because they believe it distorts markets. So, as a candidate, the President was against EXIM. But after entering office, and he met people at companies who said we are at a disadvantage because EXIM is closed. Our competitors around the world have EXIMs in their countries, ensuring that they get the deals and basically, our workers are losing because of that. And, so President Trump changed his position on EXIM.”
Reed explains a big reason for EXIM is national security: “There are now 113 export credit agencies around the world. China is the leader of export credit financing – doing more with their three ECAs than the G7 countries combined. China is using their ECAs to further their ‘Belt and Road’ initiative in strategic locations around the world, which poses a national security issue. And, when EXIM was closed, other countries used their ECAs as financial incentives to get U.S. companies to move their U.S. supply chains to their shores, which meant a loss of U.S. jobs to foreign competition. Without EXIM, the United States has unilaterally disarmed, and given up this special tool in our nation’s trade toolbox that helps the world buy more goods made in the USA rather than goods made by workers in other countries.”
Okay, what about the argument that, yes, we must compete with China, but let’s do it strictly through the free enterprise system?
I really want to ensure that I’m doing all I can to reform and transform our agency.
“That’s ideal thinking,” Reed replies. “It is aspirational, but it’s not the reality of the world we live in today. If you read our annual competitiveness report, you understand what is really happening in the world. Companies were telling the President of the United States, ‘We’re not out there because some deals require the backing of the government through export credit financing to actually be able to participate in a project halfway around the world.’
“For example, when EXIM was shut down, the country of Mozambique wanted to build a liquified natural gas – or LNG – facility to help transform their country. So, Russia and China got the deal to help Mozambique. But after we got confirmed in May and EXIM was up and running, the deal came to the United States because Mozambique wanted to buy $5 billion worth of U.S. equipment and services instead of the same from Russia and China. It’s a $5 billion deal, the largest deal in EXIM’s history, supporting 16,400 U.S. jobs across many states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida, to sell our equipment to help Mozambique build an LNG facility that will transform their country. Now would you rather have U.S. goods and services in that project? Or would you rather have China and Russia’s goods making that project?”
Reed grew up on a farm near Buckhannon, West Virginia. Her father Terry Reed was a lawyer. “My Dad worked really hard,” Kimberly recalls. “He was probably $100,000 in debt because of my mother’s medical bills, at age 29.” Reed has a brother and two sisters. Her great-grandfather was a miner who was injured in a mining accident during the Great Depression. “The women were told that two men would come out dead and one alive. My grandfather came out alive but with a broken back,” she says.
Because he could no longer work in the mine, the Reed family obtained a loan from the Federal Land Bank and started a dairy farm. “And that’s kind of our story,” Reed says, “and from it, I learned hard work, traditional values, and importance of a lot of things that helped form the foundation of where I am today.” It has also given her insights into the industry that the Democrats love to hate.
When Kimberly was four years old, she did her first stint in Washington when her father served as counsel to the Republican Study Committee, working for Houston Congressman Bill Archer. The chief of staff was a young man called Ed Feulner, who would go on to found the Heritage Foundation. Kimberly still has a letterhead from the days when her father and Feulner were working on the Republican Study Committee.
Like so many American kids growing up on a farm, Kimberly joined a local 4-H Club. It was a formative experience. “Four-H taught me how to be a leader,” she says. “I did something called public demonstration projects, where we’d have to do a project and then enter a competition and present it in front of judges for five minutes and then they would ask you questions.
“And that was really scary as a young person to do this,” she continues. “But it gave me confidence and taught me how to present and take a project from start to finish and drive for success. And so, I would say that that was very instrumental in helping provide a skill set that I used today.”
While attending West Virginia Wesleyan College, a private liberal arts college in West Virginia, Reed did an internship at the Heritage Foundation. “It was great,” she says, “because it helped me focus on my conservative principles. The intern program brought in Charles Kesler who wrote a fabulous book called Keeping the Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought, with William F. Buckley, and we studied Russell Kirk and some of the other thought leaders in the conservative movement. So that’s an excellent foundation to put into a young person at the start of a career.”
It was also at Wesleyan that Reed, originally a biology major planning to be a doctor, discovered that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps mixing law and politics. She was sent to interview someone who had worked in John F. Kennedy’s all-important 1960 West Virginia primary (it was a pivotal win because the Catholic Kennedy proved he could win in a heavily Protestant state). Reed didn’t adopt his politics, but it changed the course of her life. “I learned that, yes, I do like politics and policy,” she says. “And it’s okay to do what your parents do. And it made me decide when it came time to take the MCAT and the LSAT, so I ended up double majoring in biology and government, and then I decided I don’t want to do medicine, and I went to law school.”
She also had the Washington bug. “I wanted to work in Washington and my dad said, ‘You drive to Washington, you go into one of the House office buildings, this is where they are on the map, you look at – there’s a directory by each elevator, and you look up a man named Bill Archer’s name and you go knock on the door, and you go say you’d like to be an intern.’ And that’s how I got my internship, because these people remembered me from when I was a little girl.” She worked on tax matters.
In 2019, Rep. Archer, by then in his 90s, and his former chief of staff, Don Carlson, sat behind Reed at her Senate confirmation hearing.
In her 24-year career, Reed has worked in government and finance. She has served as counsel to three House Committees (Ways and Means, Government Reform and Oversight, and Education and the Workforce) and also been Vice President for Financial Markets Policy Relations at Lehman Brothers in New York.
Most recently, before arriving at EXIM, Reed was president of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation where she worked with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and State to encourage acceptance of U.S. exports in emerging markets. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Republican Lawyers Association.
She knows that there are many Republicans who don’t like EXIM. “I really want to ensure that I’m doing all I can to reform and transform our agency,” she says. “In a perfect world,” she acknowledged in her confirmation hearing, “there would be no ECA financing.”
However, she added, “Until that goal is reached, the United States should not unilaterally disarm in a fiercely competitive global economy. While we negotiate, we should not place our nation in a worse position than our foreign counterparts.”
If anybody can navigate the torturous world of Washington policy, it is this great granddaughter of a West Virginia miner, who is steeped in conservative thought and has the toughness of her West Virginia heritage.