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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.

Southeastern Exports Taking Large Strides

Two years ago, I wrote an overview of merchandise (goods and commodities) exports by the Sixth District's major cities. The overview was based on the 2011 metropolitan statistical area (MSAs) export data produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Back then, five MSAs in the District made it to the list of top-50 U.S. metropolitan export markets: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Nashville-Davison-Murfreesboro-Franklin. Earlier this month, the Commerce Department released the U.S. metropolitan exports report updated with 2013 data. According to the report, three more MSAs from the Sixth District now rank among the top 50: Louisiana's Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, and East Tennessee's Kingsport-Bristol. In 2013, the eight MSAs exported more than $124 billion worth of goods and commodities, accounting for nearly 9 percent of total merchandise exports by U.S. MSAs, up from 7 percent just two years earlier.

The Commerce Department has also published merchandise export fact sheets for each of the top 50 exporting MSAs. These fact sheets provide details on the metropolitan areas' exports, including product types, major export destinations, small-medium business share of total exports, and so on. It's a great way to learn more about each city's connectedness to the global economy. The information is drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau's Origin of Movement–Zip Code Based Series, which allocates exports to states and localities based on the address of the legal entity (such as a manufacturer) that receives the benefit from the export transaction.

Here are a few observations on the rising prominence of exports in the Sixth District. First, the data show the rapid evolution of MSAs in southern Louisiana and Mississippi into key export markets. Since 2009, Lake Charles, for example, saw its exports increase by more than 300 percent, and New Orleans by nearly 200 percent. But those impressive growth rates are just baby steps compared to Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula's leap of almost 600 percent—the fastest growth among metro areas that exported more than $1 billion in 2013. The common driver of that growth is rising production and exports of refined petroleum and coal products in the United States. Nationwide, export volume of petroleum products jumped almost 70 percent between 2009 and 2013. Since prices of those products also went up during that time, the value of exported petroleum products soared 180 percent.

Another development worth highlighting is last year's rapid increase in exports of transportation equipment and machinery from the nation's top exporting MSAs. The 36 percent ($2.3 billion) jump in the Nashville metro area's merchandise exports last year illustrates the trend. The strong growth has put the city among top 10 metropolitan areas that saw the biggest dollar increase in merchandise exports in 2013. And another fact: exports from Kingsport and Savannah grew by higher dollar amounts ($1.5 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively) than exports from the export heavyweight Los Angeles.

The Kingsport-Savannah-Los Angeles comparison, however, might give a wrong impression about the magnitude of change of those cities' role in international trade. The problem is that the MSA export data only capture exports of goods and commodities, omitting the big share (about 30 percent) of U.S. exports accounted for by the services industry (which includes, for example, tourism, patents, and entertainment). I wonder what types of changes are taking place in the services industry exports and how they may be affecting Sixth District cities' ties to the global economy. If you have any insights, please share!

Photo of Galina AlexeenkoBy Galina Alexeenko, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch