Sunday, August 1, 2010

Randy McClain: Nashville firms have a world of customers

When a business owner looks for his or her next sale, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking only locally.
But no one should overlook the fact that buyers for a Middle Tennessee product or service might just as easily call the streets of Tokyo or Mexico City home. Nashville is a fast-growing export town, ranking among the top 40 U.S. metropolitan areas for worldwide exports since 2003.

In fact, Nashville's rate of export growth has averaged 9.2 percent a year between 2003 and 2008, the same growth rate as the United States overall.

That statistic comes from a new study by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy group in Washington that argues for a greater focus on exports to help lead the United States out of its economic doldrums.

RelatedRead the full Brookings export report

In Nashville, consider companies with an international reach such as Nissan North America or aircraft parts maker Vought Aircraft Industries Inc., and you'll begin to see how Nashville's financial strength touches the globe.

Brookings says the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas account for 83 percent of all exports from the United States, and if each city works to strengthen its best-performing industry clusters, it could lead to more sales, more jobs and more income for all.

So, how does Nashville stack up against a few of its peers — Birmingham, Ala.; Atlanta; and Charlotte, N.C.? Here's a snapshot of several generally favorable comparisons with those other cities.

Nashville: Music City produces $7.8 billion a year in exports, with Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany the top five export markets from 2003 to 2008.

As a share of the local economy, 11.2 percent of what's produced here ends up going to foreign lands, and that supports about 72,700 local jobs. Transportation equipment (cars, for instance), electrical equipment, and professional and technical services are among our export moneymakers.

Two relative shortcomings stand out in the local export picture. Only about 8 percent of Music City exports over the period studied went to fast-growing markets China, Brazil and India. And wages linked to export jobs identified here averaged just under $53,000 a year — not a bad sum but below the totals of three-fourths of the top 100 U.S. cities.

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