Value of Arkansas Exports Rises 6.5 Percent in 2011

Arkansas companies saw the value of their exports rise 6.5 percent in 2011 compared with 2010, beneficiaries of an improving global economy.

And so far, 2012 is on track to post a much bigger increase in exports, helped by a federal initiative and recent free trade agreements that are making Arkansas products more competitive in the world marketplace.

(Lists: Click here (PDF) to view the complete list of Arkansas exports.)

In addition, a couple of local organizations, such as the World Trade Center Arkansas in Rogers and the Arkansas U.S. Export Assistance Center in Little Rock, continue their push to introduce more Arkansas goods and services to the rest of the world.

The total value of Arkansas exports rose to $5.6 billion in 2011, a 6.5 percent increase that reversed a decline: In 2010, their value fell 2.1 percent compared with 2009, and in 2009, their value declined 8.8 percent compared with 2008.

The good news has continued into this year. In August, the International Trade Administration, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, reported that the value of Arkansas exports increased to $3.8 billion in the first half of 2012, compared with $2.8 billion in the first six months of 2011.

“Several countries sharply increased their demand for Arkansas products — Indonesia by 228 percent, Germany by 178 percent, Brazil by 170 percent and France by 116 percent,” the agency said.

And in the first nine months of this year, the value of Arkansas exports has risen 28.3 percent compared with the first nine months of 2011, increasing to $5.5 billion over last year’s $4.3 billion in the comparable period, said Eric Johnson, senior international trade specialist at the Export Assistance Center, which is headed by Director Sean Kelley.

The Export Assistance Center has seen a continued increase in the number of companies voicing an interest in exporting their goods and services and asking for the center’s help, Johnson said in an emailed response to questions from Arkansas Business.

He added that based on figures so far this year, “we expect 2012 will finish at levels more consistent with the pre-global financial crisis.”

The level of state exports to foreign countries is improving as both Arkansas and the nation’s economies recover from “the global economic crisis that made a significant impact on 2010 and 2009 levels,” Johnson said.

“Exports have sustained thousands of Arkansas companies over this period, with companies able to diversify their sales across domestic and international accounts,” Johnson said.

Dan Hendrix, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Arkansas, attributed the improved showing to several factors.

“There is a continuing awareness that 97 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States,” he said. “Globally, the purchasing power of an emerging middle class is growing.”

In addition, Hendrix said, in November 2011, “the Obama administration rolled out the National Export Initiative to double United States exports in five years. As part of this initiative, the SBA began a State Trade Export Promotion grant program.

“The WTC Arkansas received $576,400 for 2011-12 and $320,000 for 2012-13 under that program, which we’re using to promote Arkansas exports. In addition, free trade agreements — such as those recently implemented with Panama, Colombia and South Korea — have made Arkansas products and services more competitive in foreign markets.”

Asked what Arkansas exports are doing particularly well in the global market, Johnson said that transportation equipment, agricultural products and equipment, machinery and chemicals were continuing to sell well.

He added that Canada, Mexico and China remain among the state’s leading markets, with increases in France, Brazil, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium and South Korea. The marked increase in Arkansas exports during the first nine months of this year was with Canada, Mexico, China, Brazil and Belgium, Johnson said.

Finding buyers overseas isn’t just for big companies, Johnson and Hendrix stress. About 78 percent of the state’s exporting companies are small and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

Both men pointed to the help their organizations offer Arkansas businesses in connecting with foreign buyers, with Johnson noting that “surviving recessionary times requires new markets be developed around the world.”

To improve their chances of finding overseas buyers for their goods, Johnson said, Arkansas companies should conduct research to determine the best foreign markets, visit those countries and meet with prospective buyers and then develop an international marketing plan.