Chamber of the Americas partners with OPIC

DENVER – The Chamber of the Americas, based in Denver, has partnered with the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to help educate its members who want to do business internationally.

The chamber serves companies in Colorado and across the United States by offering strategic business planning, positioning, evaluations and structure to businesses that are entering or expanding in America’s marketplace. As part of OPIC’s Partners Program, the chamber will serve as a point of contact for businesses that would benefit from the services offered by OPIC.

OPIC is an independent government agency that helps U.S. businesses that want to invest in emerging-market countries. It started at the end of World War II with the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Europe.

It was a revolutionary idea for its time, said Lawrence Spinelli, director of outreach and public affairs for OPIC, because there was so much that needed rebuilding after the war and not enough government resources to do it all. The agency helped get the private sector involved in rebuilding.

The organization works in 160 developing countries around the world and has provided $1.7 billion in support of Colorado businesses and $200 billion in support of U.S. businesses investing in emerging markets.

“Our job is to try and fill a void that the private sector couldn’t fill on its own. If you are a U.S. business and want to go to Germany, France or Japan to do investment, you could find financing from a bank. If you are going to Kenya or Ghana or Honduras, it is very challenging to do that,” he said. “If you are a small- or medium-sized business, it probably is impossible.”

That’s where OPIC steps in to provide financing. Spinelli calls OPIC a “bank of last resort. We charge market rates, but we are not here to put banks out of business. We provide financing in a country where you couldn’t get financing or for a period of time you couldn’t get financing.”

OPIC lends money for three to 20 years, and the loans range from $500,000 to $250 million.

It also offers political risk insurance. If a Colorado business expands into Montana, the only thing it has to worry about is commercial failure, he said.

“The minute you go into another country, particularly an emerging-market country, you face some challenges, political risks,” Spinelli said. Those could be anything from a regime change where a new government comes in and nationalizes all industries, to a civil war or act of terrorism, where the business could lose all of its investment.

“It’s like having a homeowner’s policy for your investment. If any of those things go wrong, something politically motivated causes you to lose all or some of your investment, we, OPIC, will make you whole and then we would step into your shoes and we would go fight with the government to get our money back,” Spinelli said.

“OPIC has been around for a while and done great work in the past,” said Gil Cisneros, chairman and CEO of Chamber of the Americas. “One of the things the chamber does is bring in a new fresh group of people who have not only the ability but the willingness to do business internationally but who have not been exposed to that area.”

The Chamber’s role is to help ease their transition into the international arena.

The Chamber of the Americas will present “The Americas Executive Forum Luncheon,” from noon to 1:30 p.m., May 17, at The Palm Restaurant at the Westin Tabor Center in downtown Denver. The forum will include a keynote address by Spinelli. Contact Cisneros at gil@chamberoftheamericas.com to register.