Upstate SC Alliance gets region in Brookings Institute export initiative

By Bill Poovey
Published Dec. 19, 2013

South Carolina’s Upstate has been selected for a Brookings Institution program aimed at boosting international export opportunities as part of a customized “global engagement strategy.” The Upstate SC Alliance is coordinating the four-year initiative.

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“It was a very competitive application process,” said alliance interim president Jennifer Miller.

Alliance marketing research manager Elizabeth Feather said the 10 counties representing the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson combined statistical area are among 20 regions in the inaugural class of the new “Global Cities Exchange.” Feather said Atlanta; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Milwaukee; Phoenix; Sacramento, Calif.; and Wichita, Kan., were also picked recently to join with other regions, including Charleston, which has been developing a metropolitan export plan for about a year and is starting to implement strategies. Feather said the new exchange combines Brookings’ Metropolitan Export Initiative and Global Cities Initiative.

Feather said the regions will collaborate as a “peer-learning network” to develop best practices that lead to a “foreign direct investment plan” for each of them.

Miller said other economic development organizations will participate in the project, which will start with surveys of Upstate businesses about their export activities and how they can be assisted. She said services, such as construction and medical care, are also part of the global economy. Starting next year, a team will start work on a market assessment, to determine the status of current export services and to collect data aimed at measuring export strengths and weaknesses.

“This region has a lot of international companies,” Miller said. “We are ranked pretty high in our percentage of employment based on foreign direct investment.”

A report earlier this year showed the Upstate produced about 55% of South Carolina’s record $25.3 billion in export sales in 2012. The Greenville-Mauldin-Easley metro area led with $11.7 billion, followed by Spartanburg at $1.7 billion and Anderson at $572 million. The state’s largest merchandise export category was transportation equipment, which totaled $8.5 billion, followed by nonelectronic machinery, $3.5 billion; chemicals, $2.9 billion; plastics and rubber products, $2.6 billion; and electronic products at $1.7 billion.

Another study showed merchandise exports from the Greenville-Mauldin-Easley metropolitan area reached a record $12.3 billion in 2012, making it the 27th-largest export market in the U.S. Exports climbed $548 million, or 4.7%, from 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

Miller said the “assumption going into this is the majority of exports going to the port is from larger manufacturers” that handle their export operations in-house. She said smaller companies may not have that expertise. “This plan will help us determine how to help them.”

Miller and Feather said companies that are exporting are not as subject to regional or national economic downturns.

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