Local exports climb to top ranking

WARREN – A sharp increase in the amount of locally made metal products, petroleum or coal products and motor vehicles helped make the Youngstown metro area number one in the nation in export growth between 2009 and 2012.

Locally manufactured petroleum and coal products being exported out of the U.S. more than doubled from 2009 to 2012, according to a study released last week by the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. JPMorgan Chase assisted with the study.

Export of locally manufactured motor vehicles increased by 47 percent over the same time period, and export of locally produced “non-ferrous metal products” increase 28 percent over the three years.

Officials at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber attributed the significant increase in the specialized metals to production of titanium and aluminum in the Mahoning Valley. Officials there also saw what they described as a “moderate to good” increase in exports for motor vehicles, or the manufacture of the Chevrolet Cruze which exports throughout North America, along with iron and steel products, and the petroleum and coal products being made locally for oil and gas drilling and also for mining.

“While being number one in the U.S. is always a surprise, it wasn’t a total surprise because we’ve had indications in previous surveys that there had been a growth in exporting over the last few years,” Chamber vice president for government affairs Anthony Paglia said Friday. “We have also been promoting exporting with our Chamber members over the last four years and had a TechBelt Export Summit here in 2012.”

Still, Paglia acknowledges, it was a pleasant surprise and a feather in the area’s economic cap.

The report includes the Youngstown Metropolitan Statistical area, or MSA, which includes Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio and Mercer County, Pa.

Officials behind the study stressed the role strong export performance over the past several years has played in the nation’s ongoing economic recovery, particularly in the largest metro areas. Despite this impressive growth, however, U.S. metros are not fulfilling their export potential, according to the Brookings report.

The local MSA beat out similar spikes in exported goods by Detroit, which ranked second; New Orleans; Salt Lake City; Baton Rouge, La.; Ogden, Utah; Houston; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Toledo; and Charleston, S.C.

Despite the large increase, the report does show room for improvement in Valley exports.

In overall value of exports, the Youngstown metro area ranks in the bottom half of the nation’s top 100 metro areas, at 63rd. The area exported products valued at $4.68 billion in 2012, according to Brookings.

Still, that ranking didn’t seem to concern local Chamber officials.

“Leading the country in percentage increase is pretty significant in and of itself. When considering that we are a small- to mid-size metro area, that would be a big order to expect or think that we could lead the country in total exports over some of the very large metro areas around the U.S. that are many times larger that Youngstown-Warren,” Paglia said.

To reach export potential, metropolitan leaders should be more intentional about their export planning, Brookings said.

“Exports have been a critical driver of the post-recession recovery in the U.S. and its metro areas,” said Brad McDearman, director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Export Initiative and co-author of the report. “Metro leaders that make boosting exports an economic development priority are better positioning their regions for success in the more globally-connected 21st century economy.”

The U.S. economy is driven more by global trade than ever before and metropolitan regions power export growth, Brookings said. The top 100 metro area’s alone account for 64 percent of the nation’s total exports. Exports accounted for 54 percent of post-recession output growth in the 100 largest metros, compared to 37 percent for the nation as a whole.

All but one of the top 100 metros saw an increase in exports from 2003 to 2012.

While growth has been strong, the U.S. is more than $200 billion below the administration’s National Export Initiative goal to double exports in five years.

Only 12 of the top 100 metro areas have maintained the 15 percent annual growth rate required to double exports, Brookings pointed out.