In Our View: Distant Customers

Portland-Vancouver exporters will benefit from think tank’s rebranding project

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Compelling statistics illustrate how and why the rest of the world matters to Southwest Washington and the rest of the state:

About 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power exists outside the United States.

More than one-fourth of the state’s jobs are tied to exports.

At the Port of Vancouver, exports in 2010 grew 19.5 percent over the previous year. Wheat exports increased 16 percent.

Why does a drought in Russia matter here in our corner or the state? It increases Russia’s demand for wheat from the United States, and as much as 16 percent of the nation’s wheat exports have passed through the Port of Vancouver in recent years.

Obviously, the rest of the world matters. And it’s a regional concern. As the world’s dependence on computer technology soars, about two-thirds of the growth in exports at the Port of Portland has come from computer and electronics manufacturers. Oregon’s largest employer is chip-maker Intel. According to the esteemed Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group in Washington, D.C., the Portland region (which includes Clark County) is one of three metro areas in the nation that doubled exports between 2003 and 2008.

We mention the Brookings Institution because on Oct. 17 the think tank will announce details of a new rebranding project for this region’s exporters. That’s good news for several reasons, not the least of which is that the United States is desperate to close its trade deficit with China. We’ve got the companies, and the rest of the world has the customers, so the Brookings recommendations will be perfectly timed.

Leaders from ports, governments and economic development groups will benefit from the details, and already we know that a big emphasis will be placed on developing new export businesses. If your business needs information about export assistance, contact Bonnie Moore, director of business services for the Columbia River Economic Development Council at 360-567-1055 or bmoore@credc.org.

The Obama administration’s National Export Initiative calls for doubling the nation’s exports by 2015, and the Portland-Vancouver metro area will be right in the middle of that growth. It’s one of four areas (along with Los Angeles; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Minneapolis-St. Paul) chosen by Brookings for pilot programs to increase exports.

Here, the goals include “rebranding the Portland-Vancouver area so that it’s more of a global brand,” Moore explained. Both a market assessment and a strategic plan have been written, and an expansion of the supply chain from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel is envisioned.

The project’s results will be measured, and according to a recent Columbian story, those results are expected to include rising company revenues; an increasing share of companies that are exporting; expansion of small, mid-size and minority-owned firms; and improved opportunities for growth within the exporter chain.

Here’s another timing advantage: The global economy is mired in myriad difficulties. On Wall Street on Friday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq completed their biggest quarterly drops since the fourth quarter of 2008. For the Dow, it was the worst quarter since early 2009. All the more reason for wary exporters to prepare for a recovery.

We’re glad the current and aspiring exporters in the Portland-Vancouver region are so eager to flex their power around the world.