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  August 26th, 2013 | Written by

Top 25 Cities for Global Trade

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If variety is truly the spice of life, a yearly ranking of the top U.S. metro areas by export volume would be a pretty bland dish. In the International Trade Administration’s annual report of the top 50, the 10 or 15 cities registering the highest export volumes are pretty consistent year to year. Not too appetizing, right?

That’s why our ranking, “Top Cities for Global Trade,” takes a different approach. Rather than retrace our steps from last year and offer the complete top 50, we’re taking a closer look at the 25 metro areas that posted the largest export volume increase in 2011.

Frankly, there are still a lot of similarities at the top of the list, but with Houston, Texas, adding nearly $24 billion in exports—a 30 percent increase over its second-place 2010 showing— and New York adding $20 billion to its No.1 total, it’s fair to say the heavy lifters on this list deserve the praise.


1. Houston, Texas

Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
$104.5 billion (2011 export total) | + $23.9 billion (increase from 2010) | + 29.65 percent (increase from 2010)

Anyone doubting the local effects of global trade need only look at Houston. Owing to its leadership role as a producer of petroleum and coal products—which makes up a third of its exports—the city produced a robust 29.6 percent growth in 2011, more than $23 billion. And don’t assume all that money found its way into the snakeskin billfolds of local billionaires. Overseas trade helped make Houston the top American city in terms of job creation. “Foreign trade contributes to job creation, generates significant economic impact to our city and has helped Houston’s reputation as a world energy capital,” says Mayor Annise Parker. Over the last five years, more than 100 foreign-owned companies have relocated, expanded or started new businesses in the area. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, Houston is not only the first major city to regain all the jobs it lost due to the economic downturn but has created more than two jobs for every one lost. (Steve Lowery)


2. New York, New York

New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ
$105.1 billion | + $20 billion | + 23.5 percent

The benefits of international trade are nothing new to New York, where one out of every 10 private-sector jobs is with a foreign company. Still, Gotham has been going gaga over its leading export growth market for the past decade, a little berg known as China. Hong Kong and China account for 15 percent of all of New York’s exports. Not only have the Chinese been enthusiastic buyers of New York manufactured goods and metals, but more than half of China’s 32 largest companies that do business in the U.S. have headquarters in and around New York and, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that’s a good thing. “Chinese growth is an opportunity for the U.S. and the world, because the global economy is not a zero-sum game. We all share in each other’s success,” Bloomberg says. “A growing China creates jobs for our export producers, keeps consumer prices low, expands our choice of goods and services, and increases our access to capital and talent.” (SL)


3. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
$72.7 billion | + $10.5 billion | + 16.9 percent

L.A. does about half of its international trade with somewhere old—Mexico represents 24.3 percent of all the city’s exports—and somewhere relatively new—the burgeoning Asian markets of China, Hong Kong and Japan take up another 23.9 percent of the City of Angels’ goods. The Chinese market is seen as so critical to L.A.’s future that one of now former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s last official acts was to take his third trip to the region to promote “trade, tourism and foreign direct investment.” Stephen Cheung, the L.A. Port’s director of International Development, explained why the trip could not wait for new Mayor Eric Garcetti to be sworn in. “Other cities are going [to China] on a regular basis to attract business,” Cheung said. “If they are able to secure a deal before us, there’s a possibility they may move their business elsewhere and not to Los Angeles. This is something we can’t risk.” (SL)


4. Miami, Florida

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
$43.1 billion | + $7.2 billion | + 20.6 percent

If you plan on doing business in Central or South America, chances are you’re going to have to go through Miami. The city known as the “Capital of Latin America” is a critical cog in doing business southward; city officials and business leaders have said they believe the city will become the hemisphere’s tech hub. More than 1,400 multinational corporations use Miami as their headquarters of Latin American operations. And we’re talking the big boys: Exxon, AIG, Microsoft, Visa International and Wal-Mart, just to name a very few. Mayor Tomas Regalado says the reason for the city’s standing in Latin America is that it provides the climate and culture of any great Latin city but “with the security that you have in the United States, for your investment and for your family.” (SL)


5. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
$24.4 billion | + $4.0 billion | + 19.8 percent

The Big Easy’s origins in the early 18th century are a product of the area’s optimum location as a trading port. Indeed, the Port of New Orleans is the fifth largest in the United States based on volume of cargo handled and the Port of South Louisiana, also based in New Orleans, is the world’s busiest in terms of bulk tonnage. Exports from New Orleans—bound for such major trade destinations as China ($3.6 billion), the Netherlands ($2.1 billion) and Singapore ($1.9 billion)—account for 62.5 percent of Louisiana’s merchandise exports. (SL)


6. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI
$39.5 billion | + $5.8 billion | + 17.21 percent

Not surprisingly, Chicago’s main export destination is nearby neighbor Canada, which took $13.7 billion of the Windy City’s products—minerals and fuels—or nearly three times as much as its No. 2 partner, Mexico ($5.4 billion). But don’t think that means Chicago is stuck in the past; from 2001-’08, Chicago recorded the greatest number of new or expanded facilities in the United States. Chicago has the third-largest science and engineering workforce of any metropolitan area in the nation. And its using that know-how to grow new markets such as Indonesia. “There’s great potential and opportunity for international companies to expand here in Chicago,” says Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (SL)


7. Seattle, Washington

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
$41.1 billion | + $5.7 billion | + 16.1 percent

As you might expect from a city that has experienced economic booms courtesy of such disparate industries as timber and aerospace, the Emerald City exports a variety of new-economy goods such as computer parts as well as old-economy items that include hunting, fishing and, dagnabbit, trapping gear. Since its day as the gateway to the Klondike gold rush, Seattle has taken advantage of its geography and there is little doubt the city benefits from its port being a day closer to Asia than any other American port. Not surprisingly, three of the city’s top four export partners are located in Asia (China, Japan, Hong Kong). (SL)


8. Detroit, Michigan

Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI
$49.4 billion | + $5.4 billion | + 12.27 percent

It’s doubtful any metropolitan area fought harder against the North American Free Trade Agreement than Greater Detroit. It lost that battle, of course, but appears to have won the war, considering that 68.5 percent of Detroit’s merchandise exports travel to NAFTA countries; a cool $33.9 billion. Detroit does so much business with Canada that the Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in North America; so busy that there is talk of building another bridge to accommodate all that commercial traffic. (SL)


9. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, UT
$16 billion | + $411 million | + 2.6 percent

Utah, led by Salt Lake City, has reaped the benefits of a strong and steady increase in exports for several years. The Brookings Institute estimates that about 50,000 Utahns hold jobs that are directly related to exporting. More than half of those—27,000—are in Salt Lake City. Primary metal manufacturing is by far the city’s largest export, accounting for $12 billion, while the second largest export, electronic products, comes in at a relatively modest $841 million. Primary destinations for those products are Hong Kong ($4.2 billion) and Canada ($1.2 billion). (SL)


10. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX
$10.5 billion | + $3.5 billion | + 33.3 percent

“San Antonio is the culture of business,” Mayor Julian Castro proudly exclaims—before touting the city’s million-strong workforce, more than 110,000 higher-education students and the absence of state income tax—in a video produced by San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. One of the top exporters to NAFTA members, the city of San Antonio increased its exports by $3.5 billion from 2010 to 2011, and again in 2012. With its international airport, port and rail support, the city offers excellent access to global markets. (Patrick Dooley)


11. Dallas, Texas

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
$26.6 billion | + $4.1 billion | + 18.4 percent

Despite what you may have seen or now assume about Dallas given what you saw on the eponymous TV series, oil is not what the region shares with the rest of the world anymore. If J.R. Ewing were starting out today he’d be more likely to be getting into the computer and electronic product market, which accounts for more than a quarter (27.8 percent) of all Dallas exports. (Though, he’s sure to still be a cad and a scoundrel, not to mention a lowdown polecat.) One recent point of emphasis in regards to foreign trade has been adding more direct international flights, especially to Asia, from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “The economic impact from international flights is extraordinary,” says D/FW Airport CEO Jeff Fegan. (SL)


12. Peoria, Illinois

$11.1 billion | + $4.1 billion | + 36.94 percent

Peoria snagged the 21st spot on Inc. Magazine’s list of Best Midsize Cities for Business and the fifth spot among midsize metro areas on CNNMoney’s list of Best Places to Launch. Even as the economy sputters, Peoria’s businesses continue to flourish, helped in part by the city’s low corporate real estate rates. With new businesses sprouting up and success among its young companies, the city’s exports reached a new record in 2012 with more than $17 billion shipped, according to data released at press time. (PD)


13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
$26.2 billion | + $3.5 billion | + 15.42 percent

With its Foreign Trade Zone grabbing its own spot among Global Trade’s Top 25 report, Philadelphia is clearly open for international business. The city’s industrial sector employs more than 100,000 workers and contributes nearly $50 billion annually to Philly’s direct output, according to Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. Its $26 billion in exports was good for 11th place overall in the ITA’s report on the Top 50 Metro Areas by export volume, though that total did taper off to $23 billion in 2012. (PD)


14. Greenville, South Carolina

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
$11.7 billion | + $3 billion | + 34.48 percent

Those giving thought to locating in the Palmetto State will love what it calls the “South Carolina Advantage:” a 5 percent corporate tax rate and a lot of zeros in other tax columns. There’s no local income tax, no state property tax, no inventory tax, no sales tax on industrial equipment and best of all for global companies, no unitary tax on worldwide profits. Greenville, which calls itself the “economic center of Upstate,” is a perennial member of the Top 50 Cities club, and 2011 was no different. To the city’s $3 billion boost in exports from 2010 to 2012, it added another $550 million in 2012. (PD)


15. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

$15.2 billion | + $3 billion | + 24.59 percent

America’s “most livable city” as ranked by Fortune and Forbes, Pittsburgh’s not too bad for business, either. Its labor costs are below the national average, though the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce has made it its business to influence the state to lower its 9.99 percent corporate net income tax rate—the second-highest in the nation. While that may be high, it wasn’t enough to chase out the nine Fortune 500 companies that call Pittsburgh home, among them United States Steel, PNC Financial Services Group and, of course, H.J. Heinz. (PD)


16. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
$26.2 billion | + $3 billion | + 12.93 percent

Greater Minneapolis claims an impressive 19 Fortune 500 companies, led by Target, General Mills and U.S. Bancorp. How can so many top businesses be wrong? Answer: They’re probably not. According to the City of Minneapolis, the taxes levied against its businesses are 15th lowest in the nation, and more than 70 new companies are launched each week on average. The city is also home to 13 colleges offering businesses plenty of human capital, and citywide Wi-Fi guarantees those future employees can update their Facebook accounts from their desk or anywhere in the city. (PD)


17. Corpus Christi, Texas

$5.6 billion | + $2.8 billion | + 100 percent

Corpus Christi is making its first appearance in the “Top Cities for Global Trade” with an exclamation point. Sure, its $5.6 billion in exports ranked 46 among the ITA’s Top 50, but it’s a pretty impressive feat when a city grows its exports by a full 100 percent. The city’s export numbers are certainly helped by its own Port of Corpus Christi, the fifth-largest in the nation, which in 2011 processed more than a combined 80.3 million tons of break bulk, chemicals and grains among other products. (PD)


18. Portland, Oregon

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
$20.9 billion | + $2.4 billion | + 12.97 percent

Known today for a vibrant, if somewhat defiant young population, its natural access to the Asian markets via the Port of Portland virtually ensures the Rose City’s spot among the Top 50 Metro Areas for exports every year. Proximity to Canada doesn’t hurt either, but it’s actually Mexico that topped the city’s list of export destinations. Low energy costs and abundant natural resources help shippers, who increased exports nearly $2.5 billion in 2011 because, apparently, all the cool kids are doing it. (PD)


19. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
$ 17.2 billion | + $2.2 billion | + 14.67 percent

From its high-water mark of $17.2 billion of exports in 2011, Atlanta jumped again to a record $18.2 billion in 2012, a 5.5 percent increase. And it’s aiming for more. Metro Atlanta Chamber entices companies to relocate by saying it seeks to make Atlanta “the premier center for supply chain management and establish the region as the global gateway of choice.” With the Georgia Ports Authority, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and plenty of rail and trucking options the region is well on its way. (PD)


20. San Francisco, California

San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
$23.6 billion | + $2.2 billion | + 10.28 percent

Given that the Bay Area accounts for more patents than any region in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that technology consistently ranks as San Francisco’s top export sector. It follows that the city’s workforce is highly educated, recently ranked by Money magazine as the Best Educated City in the Nation. Where there’s innovation there’s venture capital, and as San Francisco Center for Economic Development points out, “more than 33 percent of nationwide funding occurs in the Bay Area alone.” (PD)


21. Brownsville, Texas

Brownsville-Matamoros, TX
$6.0 billion | + 2.1 billion | + 52.3 percent

Brownsville-Matamoros is a U.S.-Mexico region with strong economic ties. Mexico ($3.8 billion) and Canada ($333 million) accounted for 68.6 percent of 2012 exports. Top U.S.-to-Mexico sectors were petroleum ($920 million), soy beans ($333 million) and TV components ($288 million). Gil Salinas, EVP of Brownsville’s Economic Development Council, says: “Our deep-water port on the U.S. and Mexico border managed over $750 million in commodities exports and 7.1 million tons of cargo last year. Brownsville’s connections to Mexico by proximity and partnership make it a key U.S. destination operating on a global scale.” (Marlene Piturro)


22. Bridgeport, Connecticut

Bridgeport-Norwalk-Fairfield, CT
$11.3 billion | + $2 billion | +21.51 percent

This boaters’ paradise of 300,000 has some mean streets but its exports jumped $1.9 billion (21.5 percent) from 2010 to 2011. Bridgeport’s MSA contributed 48.2 percent of Connecticut’s exports in ’11. Aerospace/defense, engineering and advanced manufacturing anchor its economy, while G.E. and Xerox call the area home. Its port processed exports to China ($1.6 billion) and the Netherlands ($759 million); excellent rail and interstate infrastructure helped move $1.1 billion of exports each to Mexico and Canada. “If you’re looking to start a business or jump start its growth, take a look at Bridgeport,” says Mayor Bill Finch. (MP)

#23. Davenport, Iowa

Davenport-Bettendorf-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL
$6.7 billion | + $1.9 billion | + 39.58 percent

Davenport, “America’s front porch on America’s greatest river,” anchors a quad city, bi-state MSA of 350,000 people. Home to Deere and 3M, its top exports are machinery ($5 billion), transportation equipment ($464 million) and fabricated metal products ($316 million). Top destinations are Canada, Brazil and Germany. A bi-state port feeds traffic to the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico while I-80 connects it to the coasts. Mayor Bill Gluba touts the Quad Cities for its pro-business climate, well designed and maintained infrastructure, low energy costs and quality workforce. (MP)


24. Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange, TX
$5.5 billion | + $1.7 billion | + 44.74 percent

America’s energy gateway, this metropolitan statistical area of 388,745 has pumped black gold since 1901. Chevron and ExxonMobil kept its Sabine-Neches Waterway’s port, I-10 and railroads busy moving petroleum/coal products worth $2.7 billion in 2011. Chenier and Golden Pass will soon start exporting LNG. Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce President Jim Rich calls the port, the fourth-largest by tonnage, a “huge business-friendly facility with seasoned petroleum engineers directing 700,000 barrels of crude oil daily.” Port improvements under way will smooth the 66-mile trip to the Gulf Coast. (MP)


25. Decatur, Illinois

Decatur-Springfield-Peoria-Bloomfield-Normal, IL
$9.3 billion | Unknown | Unknown, but moved up 16 places

Decatur, a city of 113,000, is a central-Illinois trade hub. Caterpillar exports mining machines and ADM ships agricultural products globally. Mitsubishi, Union Iron, PPG and Rural King added to Decatur’s 11.7 percent of Illinois’ 2011 exports. Craig Coil, president and CEO of Decatur’s Economic Development Council, attributes the region’s success to its new “Midwest inland port, a vast rail yard with intermodal capabilities, shipping anywhere economically and fast.” Equidistant from Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis, Decatur is poised to warehouse and export goods, bypassing its larger Midwest neighbors. (MP)