Exports, Exports! Get Your Exports Here!

This year, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development in Rhode Island exposed an area of our financial terrain that hasn’t received much publicity: exports. It’s true that our state isn’t exactly known for this sector of the economy – most of what we see in the news today is about the fluctuating unemployment rate and job startups. But with the volume of goods and products – not people – we’ve been sending overseas, it may be time to focus on expanding and improving that aspect of how we do business. Exports are no longer discussions for just the federal level of government – we are seeing this aspect of business trickle down to the state and local levels, especially here in Rhode Island.

In the last two years alone, Rhode Island has increased its exports by 53 percent, from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.3 billion in 2011. To paint a picture of what that really means, the value of exports per job was $181,000 in 2010. So for every $1 billion in exports, Rhode Island sees about 5,000 new jobs being created.

According to the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, exports represent 31 percent of total economic growth in Rhode Island during the past 22 years. That is a large chunk of our financial health that we cannot ignore. Rhode Island received more than $496,000 from October 2011 to September 2012 to implement the three-year pilot trade and export initiative through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The State Trade and Export Promotion, or STEP, program is being used as the prime model for export development in this country right now. Several of my General Assembly colleagues and I would like to see that program expand. This year, the reapplication process began for year two of the STEP grant.

This is not a process solely focused on creating new businesses with plans to export goods. It focuses more on targeting small business owners who are already well-established so that they can explore their options and grow in a way that makes the best financial sense. The state must continue to ensure existing businesses are aware of all of their growth options while also looking to incorporate new industries and businesses into the mix.

An example of standout results from this program can be seen in Rhode Island’s November 2011 trade mission to Israel, which resulted in more than $5.2 million in projected export sales, 28 new potential distributors and 146 potential jobs that may be created within the state’s manufacturing and service industries as a result of new exports. As lawmakers, it is most certainly our job to see this program through and continue trade missions in places like Japan, Panama and the Dominican Republic. This is part of our all-encompassing plans to make it easier to do business – a sentiment I’m sure many of you have heard repeated since the recession took hold of our state.

If we could increase the state’s funding with matched monies from the federal administration and private investors, we could see a major increase in productivity within the next few years. Imagine if we were able to double or even triple our exports within the next 10 years. I can assure you that this is something you will see embedded in the General Assembly’s vision for the future of Rhode Island’s economy as we continue to engage in discussions with our friends at Bryant University and the appropriate federal agencies. The key here is to not only inspire growth, but to create a sustainable future for all facets of industry and ensure stability in the job market.

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