When I left Atlanta at the end of 1990 to serve in Europe, Africa, Asia and Washington with the U.S. Commercial Service, the Braves had the worst record in baseball. Times have changed. Now, Georgia can boast about more than the Braves.
In addition to exporting our baseball prowess, the state also has come a long way in exporting our goods and services to the world. New data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that Georgia hit a record for exporting in the first half of 2013. Merchandise exports increased 4 percent in the first half of 2013 compared to the same period of 2012, growing from $17.8 billion to a record high $18.5 billion.
Merchandise export sales in the first half of 2013 outpaced 2012 figures in many top destinations, including the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Mexico. Sales cut across many sectors: transportation equipment, machinery, chemicals, paper and food. Three sectors exported more than $1 billion of products in the first six months of 2013: aerospace products and parts ($3.1 billion); pulp, paper and paperboard mill products ($1.6 billion), and motor vehicles ($1 billion).
Let’s look at the increase from the eyes of a local exporter. Thrush Aircraft, a small business based in Albany, exports aerial-application aircraft used in agriculture, forestry and firefighting. Founded in 2003, the company employs 185 people. After learning about the Export-Import Bank of the United States from a colleague, Thrush took advantage of the bank’s services in 2010 to export an aircraft to Kenya.
Since then, Thrush’s production has doubled from 30 to 60 aircraft, and the company has added 60 new jobs. Today, there are more than 2,200 Thrush aircraft operating in some 80 countries around the world. More than 60 percent of the company’s sales are international.
“Without successful exporting, revenue growth would be severely restricted,” said Thrush CFO Paul Joiner. “Exporting is not just an adjunct to our domestic sales; it is a critical part of our overall sales strategy. Exporting certainly presents unique challenges, but the rewards are fully worth it.”
During the past year, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of companies that realize when domestic sales are flat, global opportunities are a great way to thrive as a U.S. business.
That is why U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker visited Atlanta last Friday to talk with American businesses about what works for them and how we can replicate their success. It is part of her nationwide listening tour to hear about business leaders’ priorities, concerns and ideas on how the public and private sectors can work together to strengthen the economy and create jobs.
The latest export numbers should encourage even more Georgia companies to throw their hat into the export arena. When they do, we will be here to assist.
Don Nay is director of the Atlanta U.S. Export Assistance Center.