In what may surprise a lot of Kentuckians, the commonwealth set a new record for exports in 2013 with $25.3 billion in sales of Kentucky-made products and services. But it is no surprise to Gov. Steve Beshear and economic development leaders. After all, last year marked the third consecutive year the state has set new records in exports.
In all, the number of exports in the state has risen by more than 250 percent since 2010.
Beshear’s office says the total for 2013 is 14 percent more than 2012 when exports totaled $22.1 billion.
Not surprisingly, our two closest neighbors — Canada and Mexico — were the top two foreign customers for Kentucky goods and services; Canada alone represented 30.6 percent of Kentucky’s total exports at $7.7 billion in 2013. Mexico was a distant second at $1.9 billion, followed by the United Kingdon ($1.8 billion), China ($1.3 billion) and Brazil (1.3 billion). How many of us would guess Kentucky exported more than a billion dollars’ worth of goods and services to Brazil last year? Not many, we suspect.
Aerospace products led Kentucky’s export growth with $5.6 billion, followed by motor vehicles and parts with $5.5 billion and synthetic rubber and resin with $1.4 billion.
The importance of the auto industry in this state contributes greatly to the amount of exports. In addition to the huge Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ford trucks are made in Louisville and the Chevrolet Corvette is manufactured in Bowling Green.
Plants built in Kentucky to meet the needs of the nearby vehicle manufacturing plants helped make motor vehicle parts the third largest export by Kentucky companies.
While domestic coal sales slumped in Kentucky in 2013, foreign sales of Kentucky coal rose, boosted largely by a huge contract with India. In fact, exports helped lessen the impact of the coal slump in this state.
Not all Kentucky companies profiting for foreign sales are large ones like Ford, General Motors and Toyota.
In 2011, the latest year in which complete numbers are available, a total of 4,740 companies exported from Kentucky locations. Of those, 3,823 — or 80.7 percent — were small and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 500 employees. The small and medium-sized firms generated 17.8 percent of Kentucky’s total exports in 2011.
To be sure, some of the leading exporters of products made in Kentucky are foreign-owned companies like Toyota. In 2011, foreign-owned companies employed 92,200 Kentucky workers. In addition to Japan, major sources of foreign investment in Kentucky were the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany.
Last year may not have been the best of times for many Kentucky companies and merchants but for those who export goods and services to Canada, Mexico and beyond, it was a very good year. In fact, Kentucky’s 14 percent increase in exports in 2013, far, far exceeds a nationwide increase of 2 percent.