Utah’s exporters are on a tear.
The state’s businesses exported $18.9 billion worth of merchandise last year, a 37 percent increase from the previous year’s total of $13.8 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. And that far surpassed the export growth rate nationally in 2011, which was at 16 percent.
Lew Cramer, president of the World Trade Center of Utah, said he anticipates the state’s exports will continue to increase in a big way in 2012. “What is encouraging is that we are seeing companies that have never thought about exporting before coming in and wanting to get involved.”
The top products from Utah last year included gold and silver, computer and electronic products, chemicals and transportation equipment. Demand for Utah exports grew the most in Thailand, where sales were up 311 percent. Hong Kong, Australia and the United Kingdom bought more from the state.
Export growth has been one of the reasons Utah’s economy has outperformed many other states in job creation since the end of the Great Recession.
“Exports are important to our economy because they bring money into the state,” said Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Service. “Instead of just passing money among ourselves, we’re selling products and services outside the state that bring money in, helping our employment base and increasing our incomes.”
Exports are expected to be increasingly important to the nation’s economy in the years ahead because 85 percent of the world’s economic growth in the next five years is projected to take place outside the United States.
Economists have various ways of measuring the number of jobs that exports account for in a state.
Knold said the Department of Workforce Services estimates that about 30 percent of the 1.2 million jobs in Utah are export-related, or around 360,000 positions.
“Even our ski industry can be looked upon as an export industry. You don’t have to send something outside the state, you can invite people in to spend their money and get the same benefit,” he said.
A new report from the Brookings Institution, “Export Nation 2012: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Are Driving National Growth,” lists Utah’s three largest metropolitan areas — Salt Lake City, Provo-Orem and Ogden-Clearfield — as among the 100 best in terms of their exports.
Salt Lake City was 43rd on the list. Ogden-Clearfield came in at 84th and Provo-Orem 95th.
“Utah is an interesting state, where both the industry mix and cultural factors have combined to create a place where many people are comfortable reaching out and doing business globally,” said Mark Muro, of the Brookings Institution.
Using a different way of calculating the numbers, Brookings estimates that around 50,000 Utahns hold jobs that are directly related to exporting, while another 100,000 are support-related jobs.
Muro noted that the 37 percent increase in exports from Utah last year dovetailed with what was happening on a national level, with exports an important source of job growth at a time when many sectors of the economy were just trying to hold on.
“While the overall economy was still losing jobs, the rapid growth of U.S. export sales translated into 600,000 additional jobs in the first year of economic recovery,” the Brookings Institution report stated.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Export jobs by Utah metropolitan area, 2010
Brookings Institution estimates that around 50,000 Utahns hold jobs that are directly related to exporting, while another 100,000 are support-related jobs.
5,900 direct export jobs 11,200 support jobs
Salt Lake City
27,000 direct export jobs 52,400 support jobs
7,900 direct export jobs 17,700 support jobs
Source: Brookings Institution