The Great Recession forced U.S. companies to think in new ways about their growth and survival in the coming years. In 2010, the first year of the recovery, U.S. domestic demand remained sluggish, so American businesses looked for clients outside their borders, especially in emerging markets, where most global growth has been taking place in recent years. As a result, U.S. exports increased rapidly in the first year of recovery, by more than 11 percent in real terms, the highest growth since 1997.
Increased trade has a direct and positive impact on the economy overall and on job creation. Exports contributed 46 percent to the growth of the U.S. economy between 2009 and 2011. This export surge helped create 600,000 jobs nationally in 2010, even while the rest of the economy was shedding them.
One big reason for this surge was the revival of America’s manufacturing exports. As our new paper, “Export Nation 2012,” describes, 75 percent of the nation’s additional overseas sales in 2010 came from the manufacturing sector, with transportation equipment, chemicals, and machinery leading the way.
This economic boost was felt with particular force in the country’s 100 largest metros. In 2010, these areas produced 65 percent of our exports overall, and in 30 of the 50 states they accounted for a majority of export sales. Eleven U.S. metros evidenced the kind of growth that, if continued, will double their exports in the next five years.
The lesson for policymakers could not be clearer. We have a significant growth opportunity in front of us. The United States is achieving solid export growth even though, as a nation, we still do not export at the level of many of our global competitors. Only about 1 percent of U.S. firms engage in selling to overseas markets, and the majority of those sell to only one country. Consider the rewards if we employed a more coordinated, aggressive export strategy, one that aligned federal, state, and local efforts to recruit and support the work now going on in our most forward-thinking metro areas, where public and private-sector leaders are building the physical and policy infrastructure to engage foreign markets.