After returning to Wisconsin in 2015 to work in export development at the Milwaukee 7, I was surprised how often I heard companies say they were exporting “outside of the region” to, for example, Washington state. It’s true that the vast majority of small and medium sized businesses only sell within a few hundred miles of their location, and, therefore, selling to a state 1,800 miles away is an achievement in itself. Unfortunately, however, selling to the West coast of the US does not constitute an export.
According to the World Bank, the U.S. ranked second after China in the total value of goods and services exported in 2019. However, considering that the U.S. economy continues to be the largest in the world (for the time being), you would expect that we would rank high on the list of exporting countries. When comparing U.S. exports as a percentage of GDP, however, the total amount of exports equals just 11.7% of GDP, dropping our ranking from 2nd to 138th!
Sadly, not only are we underperforming as a country, compared to the other states, Wisconsin, with $21.7 billion in exports in 2019, ranked 22nd in total value of goods exported and 24th as a percentage of Gross State Product (GSP). The largest U.S. exporting states, Texas and California eclipse Wisconsin with more than 13 times and 7 times the export value respectively.
In the November Go Global Newsletter, I wrote about how the US lacks a strong “Export Culture” where companies are constantly looking for opportunities in international markets. A weak Export Culture not only results in fewer companies exporting in the first place, it also negatively effects existing exporters as they fail to implement a “continuous improvement” mindset to identify new opportunities to grow export revenue and market share, but also to increase efficiencies and develop alliances. The term accountants use is “opportunity cost” which is correct, however, we must also keep in mind that, by not acting on these international opportunities, we are leaving the door open to competitors who are becoming more formidable in the process.
It would be very convenient if companies simply came to the realization that many more opportunities exist internationally than domestically, however, it usually takes an outside force to break through. For this reason, on behalf of all those involved in export development at the local, state and federal level, we request your assistance to build a strong Export Culture in Wisconsin. No matter your position or organization, whether speaking to your peers or clients, we ask for your help to communicate to Wisconsin businesses that the international opportunities are real and that assistance is readily available from the Wisconsin SBDC Network, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the US Commercial Service to name a few. Thank you for your support!