According to the Brooking Institute, the US has a lot more work today before it can truly be termed a global exporter. Despite record levels of exports and exporting firms, just 13% of national economic output comes from exports, compared to much larger shares among its trade partners.
Canada has nearly 30% of its output driven by international sales. Meanwhile, only 5% of American firms with employees sell in foreign markets.
Leaders from over a dozen metropolitan areas gathered in Phoenix to discuss the Obama administration’s plan for exports. The day US Commerce Secretary Penn Pritzker announced the plans, they met to share what they have learned from surveying and talking to firms as part of their development of regional export strategies, a commitment they made as participants in the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.
The following represent some recurring themes in the discussions:
- Their companies don’t believe their product or service can be exported.
- Executives don’t believe this is the time to take risks.
- They can’t access capital.
- They don’t know how to get started.
- The vast majority of firms, non-exporters and exporters alike, don’t know that services and programs exist to help them navigate the export process.
Meanwhile, local economic development leaders are themselves trying to break from traditional approaches. Job growth strategies such as firm chasing, real estate transactions, and retail development further reinforce reliance on domestic consumption.
However, the survey suggested that regional leaders understand the growing importance of global engagement. Firms that did export emphasized that going global was an imperative if they were to survive.
Companies that did use the federal and state trade services available to support them, such as the Commerce Department’s Gold Key Matching Service, rated them highly.
Examples of local initiatives already in place include:
- Portland is enhancing the competitiveness of its largest export industry, computers and electronics, by improving regional freight movement and facilitating global supply chain connections for firms like Intel and Tektronix.
- San Diego is targeting improvements in its cyber infrastructure to support its highly innovative telecoms and biotech firms, which increasingly rely on global data flows to produce and deliver advanced services.
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul has converted a fragmented set of export services into a streamlined portfolio to help small companies take the first step towards exporting or enter new markets.
Brookings has suggested that these are early signs that a culture shift is underway, with firms and regions across the country beginning to look outwards for growth. Continued national commitment to boosting exports and foreign investment has the potential to further the US global engagement as a fundamental part of economic growth.
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