Exports bring in jobs, profits

Clark County, greater Portland area see great potential in overseas markets

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Clark County is quickly realizing what other counties, cities and countries know -- that economies can be grown relatively quickly and easily through a focus on exporting.

When President Barack Obama announced the National Export Initiative in his 2010 State of the Union address, he was seemingly well-advised. The initiative had a goal of doubling exports in four years. Although the U.S. may not quite hit that lofty goal, setting the bar so high has worked wonders to change the American mind-set toward exporting and has made a real and measurable difference to the U.S. climbing out of the recent recession.

As I travel around the world and speak to business people, it is clear that there is a "new America" emerging. People overseas are noticing that America has changed the way it does business.

Now more than at any time in our history, Americans are selling more U.S. goods and services to the 95 percent of the world's consumers who live outside of our borders. In 2012, U.S. exports hit an all-time record of $2.2 trillion and supported 9.8 million jobs.

Regional strategies

Before discussing what this means to Clark County, we will look first at what the larger Portland metropolitan area is doing.

A consortium led by the Portland mayor's office and the Portland Development Commission has spearheaded a task force that includes the Port of Portland; the regional jobs promoter Greater Portland Inc.; the U.S. Export Assistance Center; and other regional players. That consortium has embraced a new business plan called the Greater Portland Export Initiative.

This new business plan is our region's response to the efforts by the U.S. government and its partners to help cities, counties and states incorporate export promotion into their economic development and long-term plans.

Last year, the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, conducted research to support the consortium's work on the Greater Portland Export Plan. The Brooking Institution's initial analysis found that nearly 20 percent of the greater Portland economy is generated by exports, which translates into jobs: every $1 billion in exports creates an average of 5,400 new jobs. The analysis estimates that the region's exports support 142,270 jobs.

Strong state exports

In 2011, Washington state exported more than $64 billion in merchandise and commodities. Not only is this a significant figure overall, but also it is immense compared to many other states; in fact, over the past 15 years, Washington merchandise and commodities exports have essentially doubled. Overall, international trade (exports and imports) support about 40 percent of all jobs in the state.

The Washington Council on International Trade's 2012 report, called the "International Competitiveness Strategy for Washington State," suggests that the state receives much higher benefits attributable to exports due to recent changes in our economy.

The council noted:

• Major growth industries in this state (such as aerospace and information technology) are much more internationally focused than most industries.

• Trade partners such as China have grown significantly as export markets.

• The economy benefits heavily from foreign tourists and the foreign students who study here.

• Several industries that have developed into major economic drivers, from global health to clean technology, were barely thought of at the time of the 1997 study.

Regardless of how these numbers are sliced and diced the common theme is that exporting is crucial to job creation.

County's export jobs

The same report estimates that some 17,836 jobs in U.S. congressional District 3 -- encompassing Clark, Cowlitz and Lewis counties -- are directly supported by exports. That's 9.4 percent of the estimated 189,600 jobs in these three counties. When jobs with indirect ties to exports are included, the total could reach as high as 20 percent.

In Southwest Washington, the Columbia River Economic Development Council identifies six industry clusters of great importance to Clark County: technology services; technology products; wealth management/financial services; agricultural processing; logistics and distribution; and health care information management.

My hope is that exports become an integral element of broader economic development strategies and that this quickly trickles down to those companies that have export potential.

The CREDC is especially focused on strengthening the global competitiveness of Clark County's small and medium-sized businesses in those target industries. It is aggressively trying to connect local companies with the myriad of nearly 100 local and state resources that can assist them with exports.

The county seems well-positioned to tap into new export opportunities. Hoover's, the business research firm, reports that just 227 of Clark County's 24,443 companies are exporting. That's just under 1 percent of the county's businesses, a percentage that rises to about 2 percent when only companies with 10 or more employees are counted.

It seems to me that 98 percent of Clark County companies focusing on 5 percent of the world's population (albeit 20 percent of the world's GDP) translates into a lot of export growth opportunity. In future articles, we will discuss those opportunities in more detail.

Richard Biggs is CEO of Atlantric LLC, a Portland-based international growth consultant focused on helping North American companies establish or expand their presence in overseas markets.