Last year was big for Wyoming overseas and across borders.
Wyoming exports shot up by nearly a quarter last year, on the strength of stronger soda ash sales and much-expanded sales of uranium, liquified natural gas, bentonite and industrial equipment and parts.
Exports climbed from $983 million in 2010 to $1.2 billion last year — a 24 percent jump — and topped the previous three years, according to the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. The state’s export growth beat the average 16 percent growth in exports nationally during the same period.
Wyoming boosted exports of soda ash, which dominates the state’s export market and is predominantly used to make glass, by $77 million last year.
While the state’s other exports pale in comparison to soda ash, a number of products saw big boosts in exports last year or were sold for the first time.
Wyoming exported tens of millions of dollars’ worth of air and gas pumps, compressors and fans, as well as uranium, liquified natural gas and light oils other than crude.
“The growth in Wyoming exports shows that even in these challenging economic times, many local companies are working to enhance their competitiveness and bottom line by making new sales abroad,” said Paul Bergmann Jr., director of the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Commercial Service in Colorado and Wyoming, in a media release.
America’s neighbors to the north and south are major destinations for Wyoming products. Canada and Mexico — both members with the U.S. in the North American Free Trade Agreement — combined to buy one-third of Wyoming’s exports. Canada alone purchased a quarter of goods sold from the state.
Anne Alexander is an economist and director of International Programs at the University of Wyoming. She termed such sales to Canada and Mexico “close and big,” while and added Brazil to the list.
Nearly half of Wyoming exports go to destinations in the Western Hemisphere, including oil field equipment to the Caribbean and mining machinery to Chile.
In one such sale, L&H Industrial of Gillette, a company very active in selling to customers at points around the globe, made and shipped a boom for a piece of mining equipment to Chile.
The 151,000-pound piece took three months to build, was the largest project manufactured to date in Gillette, and took six weeks to transport by truck, a company representative said.
If there’s one place in the world that isn’t a big buyer of Wyoming products, it’s Europe, which only imported $96 million of goods from the state — not even one-tenth of Wyoming exports.
That’s something of a boon for the state, which is a strong seller to areas of the world experiencing economic growth compared to the European Union, which is struggling to bail out and stabilize the economies of some of its members.
“We don’t have much direct exposure to Europe outside of travel and tourism,” Alexander said.
Small business promotion
Both the federal and state governments have increased efforts to export Wyoming products.
Wyoming’s boost in exports was lauded by Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, in a statement. Sánchez said Wyoming’s sales helped President Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports by 2014.
“Eighty-five percent of world economic growth over the next five years will take place outside of the United States,” he said. “As the U.S. economy builds momentum, we must continue to equip U.S. businesses with all the necessary tools to increase exports that support millions of high-paying jobs across the country.”
One such effort is the State Trade and Export Promotion program, also known as STEP. Through the program, the U.S. Small Business Administration is rolling out a second round of grants to U.S. states totalling $30 million.
Wyoming netted $42,686 in the last round of the program, which is now funding workshops, online webinars and face-to-face roundtables; helping existing exporters mentor new-to-export companies; and supporting a Wyoming business’s participation in a wheat trade mission.
The Wyoming Business Council is in the midst of a number of trade assistance seminars provided live on the Internet for interested businesspeople.
The series is part of the STEP program and part of a collaborative effort between a laundry list of state and federal groups, including the Business Council, the Wyoming Entrepreneur Small Business Development Center and Manufacturing-Works, a manufacturing extension program partnership between the Business Council, the University of Wyoming and the National Institute of Standards of Technology.
While state and federal officials aim to help Wyoming businesses export what they make, quite a few businesses are doing just fine exporting on their own, said Stephen Parker, lead business development specialist of the SBA.
“There’s some really talented companies in the state of Wyoming doing some exporting, and they’ve been doing it for a few years,” he said.
Still, he encourages small businesses to step forward and see what programs are offered to help them export their products. Alexander, the University of Wyoming economist, recommended businesses interested in exporting check with the Business Council and the Wyoming Entrepreneur Small Business Development Center.
“I think this is a good way to do grassroots diversification” of the state’s economy, she said. “It’s a good thing to do.”