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2006 total state exports: $4.67 billion, reports Mississippi Development Authority.

International trade growing, increasingly important to economy

International trade for the state’s manufacturers is big business and continuing to grow. They, along with other Mississippi businesses, are a part of the quickly evolving global market. Mississippi exports for 2006 increased 17% to $4.67 billion, achieving a new record high for exports.

That’s a ranking of 35th in the U.S., up from 39th in 2003.

“It’s important for more and more manufacturers to look at trade opportunities,” says Jay Moon, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA). “Companies around the world are trying to take business away from them, and those that have put international trade on the back burner are now putting it on the front burner.”

He says there’s no going back with the global economy that we now have. It means finding new markets and increasing market share by taking products global.

Statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that export of vehicles, electrical machinery, machinery, chemicals and oil are largely responsible for the increase in Mississippi exports. Total exports for Mississippi for 2006 were $666 million more than in 2005.

Most of the state’s exports are manufactured products with large and small businesses involved in trade. According to information from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), the state’s major exporters include Northrop Grumman, Trinity Marine, Nissan, Peavey Electronics, DuPont, Chevron, Staplcotn and Georgia-Pacific. A total of 1,602 companies exported goods from Mississippi locations in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Of those, 1,168 (73%) were small and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 500 employees.

The major exported products include vehicles, electrical machinery, machinery, dye, paint, putty, mineral fuel/oil, cotton, woodpulp, plastic, paper/paperboard, furniture and bedding.

Reaching out

Carol Moore with the Jackson U.S. Export Assistance Center points out that 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. “More Mississippi companies are working to reach these buyers,” she said. “Exporting helps companies increase their bottom line and those who think global have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.”

Moon feels some of the factors holding companies back from exporting include unfamiliarity with other currencies, rate differences and the metric system along with fear of the unknown.

“Companies need to be aware of business customs in other countries and there is lots of information available. Also, there are several organizations that can help companies get started,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting their feet wet. Once we get them doing it, they never look back.”

Some of those organizations in addition to MMA are MDA, the U.S. Commercial Service and Export Assistance Center, the Import/Export Bank and the Mississippi World Trade Center.

“The Import/Export Bank helps small companies get started with insurance that takes away some fears — such as products sitting on a dock somewhere and not being delivered,” Moon said. “MDA puts on trade shows, and that’s a real effective, inexpensive way for companies to take advantage of the global market.”

In addition to the trade shows, MDA’s marketing programs include exhibitions, catalog shows, customized itinerary development and matchmakers overseas, according to communications director Melissa Medley.

“A network of international trade representatives physically located overseas in major markets are also available to work with firms to assist in finding agents, distributors and end users for their products,” she said. “Our other areas of focus include international logistics and international protocol.”

Groups often come together to hold seminars such as the recent “Doing Business in Japan,” which had 65 attendees and speakers from both sides of the globe.

Barbara Travis, executive director of the Mississippi World Trade Center, says globalization has forced manufacturing to change whether it wanted to or not.

“The truth is that while we can rightfully cast partial blame on globalization for the loss of traditional low-wage, labor-intensive jobs, we must simultaneously thank and bless it for the increased output, productivity and efficiency of manufacturing in our state,” she said.
“Mississippi’s most astute and successful manufacturing firms have gotten the global message, and, as a result, adopted lean production techniques, targeted new markets beyond their borders for increased sales, shed non-core functions and generally sell more products than ever because they have harnessed technology to become globally competitive.”

The Mississippi World Trade Center is focused on the promotion of state exports and the facilitation of international business growth of the state’s firms by serving as the local connection to global business opportunities and resources.

“Mississippi’s exports are at an all-time high and continue to grow. It’s what Martha Stewart would call ‘a good thing’ because exporting creates more and better jobs in both the manufacturing and service sectors,” Travis added.

Israel Hernandez, assistant secretary for trade promotion and director general of the U.S. Commercial Service, says not selling internationally is like leaving money on the table. “If you do business here in the United States, the most competitive market in the world, then you can certainly sell your product or service in other markets around the world.”

He notes that the U.S. has free trade agreements in force with 14 countries and several more are pending.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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