An extensive Brookings report out today, dubbed Export Nation: How U.S. Metros Will Lead National Export Growth and Boost Competitiveness, details the winners and losers among the 100 largest U.S. metro areas when it comes to substantive exports. Brookings researchers argue renewed vigor on exporting will help end this difficult recession quicker.
Florida, alas, fares poorly in parts of Export Nation. The report ranks each of the 100 major metro areas based on "export intensity" — meaning what percentage of each metro area's economy is devoted to exports. The Tampa Bay metro area ranks low at No. 91. It's joined closely by four other Florida metro areas, meaning the Sunshine State boasts five of the lowest areas in the nation when it comes to exports as a percentage of a metro economy. (See table.)
Before we hit the panic button and once again decide Florida's economy just isn't cutting it, some Florida trade experts say the Sunshine State is doing very well, thank you, as an exporter.
International trade veteran Manny Mencia, senior vice president of Enterprise Florida — this state's economic development arm — argues Florida is, if anything, surging ahead on exports. In fact, Florida just passed the state of Washington in recent months (though that may not hold) as the No. 3 exporting state behind California and Texas.
In 2008, Florida set an all-time record for trade and exports. And international businesses accounted for nearly 17 percent of Florida's economy.
"From my perspective," Mencia says, "we are doing pretty well."
Still, the Brookings report ranks metro areas by exports for good reason. The Washington, D.C., liberal-leaning think tank points out in Export Nation that increasing the nation's exports will boost the number of better-paying jobs.
Florida economic leaders have long argued that the state must become a more aggressive exporter of goods and services. Enterprise Florida's Mencia, 59, who will help lead a trade mission to Colombia in August attended by more than 50 Florida companies and institutions, agrees.
"We have an effective economic development network for investment, but most communities could do more," he acknowledges.
Florida has some historical barriers to serious exports. It has few large corporations, and there's nothing remotely behemoth like a GE or Boeing based here. That alone diminishes Florida's export potential. Florida also isn't big on making stuff, and if you don't make stuff, you can't export it.
But Florida has a few core exports that might surprise many. Among the big-volume exports are aerospace goods, computers and parts, and hospital and medical goods. Another is phosphate, used to make fertilizer. Companies like Mosaic, operating just south and east of the Tampa Bay area, export large portions of their finished phosphate products to India and other fertilizer-dependent countries through the Port of Tampa.
Brookings' Export Nation report makes several policy recommendations, urging the U.S. government to "more proactively" pursue negotiations around the exchange rate of the dollar and a trade liberalization agenda. It also suggests federal and state governments should empower metro areas for export promotion. And it calls on metro areas themselves to be more innovative in order to increase their export capacities.
On those recommendations, an enthusiastic Mencia concurs.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.