Dallas' Ray Washburne Has $29B to Lend, and a Mission to Boost U.S. Interests Around the Globe

WASHINGTON — Ray Washburne, the Dallas investor, restaurateur and GOP fundraising powerhouse, has a message for U.S. companies eyeing opportunity in trouble spots around the globe.He has $29 billion to lend. Pick up the phone."We're here. We're open for business," he said.This month, Washburne took the helm at the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a little-known federal agency created in Cold War days to win hearts and minds through the power of capitalism, by helping U.S. firms do business in developing countries where commercial lenders are wary.OPIC has about $21.5 billion in loans and loan guarantees to companies doing business in nearly 100 countries. And it has authority to go to $29 billion."We've got about $7 billion in dry powder to go out and look for projects. We've got a real opportunity to make some things happen," Washburne said.Early Sunday, he'll fly with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, from Joint Base Andrews to Kazakhstan for an international energy expo. From there they head to Ukraine to meet with President Petro Poroshenko, joining a parade of top U.S. officials bringing reassurance in the midst of tensions with Russia."The more energy independent they become, the less dependent they are on Russia," Washburne said. "Right now the Russians can just flip off the pipeline and make it a very cold winter for people in the Ukraine."Texas firms could benefitTexas companies could be among the beneficiaries as Ukraine seeks to develop its energy fields.OPIC already has a $521 million portfolio in Ukraine, supporting 18 projects in financial services, agriculture and energy among other sectors. It has made loans to farmers and issued political risk insurance to help Ukraine buy and store gas and to upgrade railroads.Next month, the board will consider a request to help build a facility for spent nuclear fuel in the zone of destruction around the Chernobyl nuclear plant. OPIC would lend $250 million for the $410 million project, which would let Ukraine store 169,000 tons of spent fuel per year — and reduce its reliance on Russia for that service.Washburne is no diplomat. But he has spent 18 years on bank boards. As an investor, he's been involved in manufacturing and pipeline firms. He's best known in Dallas as owner of the Mi Cocina restaurants and the upscale Highland Park Village shopping center."I'm in very familiar surroundings," he said from a corner office at OPIC headquarters, a few blocks from the White House in a redeveloped art deco Greyhound station.Ambitious plansHis marching orders from the administration are ambitious. Among other things, he's supposed to step up efforts in Central America and the Middle East. He'll visit Central America this fall to look at prospective projects and promote OPIC to companies that may want to do business in the region."We're going to have a big focus on Central America," Washburne said. "If we go to Central America and we are able to put some money into El Salvador or Nicaragua and some of those countries, and create a bunch of jobs, it's a stabilizing influence."That could ease unauthorized migration north, through Mexico and into the United States.  Continue reading...

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