Exports from the Pittsburgh metro area jumped by 24.7% from 2010 to 2011. That's the word from the U.S. Department of Commerce which said the value of exports from the region rose by $3 billion last year to $15.2 billion, making Pittsburgh the 22nd largest metro area exporter in the nation.
Lyn Doverspike, director of the department's U.S. Commercial Service in Pittsburgh, said the increase in exports is partly due to an improving economy but more so it's cyclical.
"You have people taking a little more of a long term approach where you saw if things were bad in the U.S. and they started exporting," Doverspike said. "When the domestic economy picked up, they forgot about their exporting. That doesn't happen too often anymore.
Last year's boost in exports from Pittsburgh follows a 46% increase in 2010, second behind Detroit's 55% surge that year. While Canada is the number one buyer of goods and services from the country as a whole as well as Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, Doverspike says Pittsburgh companies' second largest buyer is China. "That's the kind of good story about China," Doverspike said. "We are exporting [from the Pittsburgh area] quite a bit and even statewide China has steadily moved up the top 10 list."
The other top recipients of Pittsburgh exports are Japan, Brazil and South Korea. Doverspike said it's a myth that "only the big guys" export. The commonwealth ranks seventh in small business exporting in the nation. "Two thirds of those small businesses in Pennsylvania have less than 20 employees, and that is really where we are seeing job growth. We're seeing companies approach us in markets that they might not have thought of prior; we're seeing a lot of interest in Africa.
The leading merchandise export categories for the Pittsburgh metro area in 2011 included mining, primary metals manufacturing, machinery, chemicals and electronic products. "We see things not changing in the future," Doverspike said. But she admitted there are some products and services that could carve out their own niche in the export markets. "I think a lot of the nanotech, the robotics--things that might not be commercially viable at this point; but we are pretty big in the base industries. So it would take a lot for some of these nascent sectors to be developed and overtake them as the lead."