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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 23, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Getting the goods on Seattle trade

You might think that Seattle has one of the highest shares of international trade as part of its economy, but no.

According to new research from the Brookings Institution, the top metros are Silicon Valley (35.9 percent); San Francisco (26.7); Wichita, Kan. (!) (25.6); Jackson, Miss. (!!) (24 percent); Houston (23.9); Washington, D.C. (23.4); Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (22.4); Honolulu (22.3); Austin (22.3), and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. (22).

The analysis attempts a deep dive at all goods moving in and out of the 100 largest metros, both domestically and internationally. And, to be sure, some of the leaders above show some distortions.

For example, Wichita’s total goods trade is $56.3 billion, ranked 63rd out of 100. But a big boost from agriculture and energy vaults its share of international goods trade.

D.C. is powered by your tax dollars and the rent-seeking of highly subsidized contractors in everything from defense and Das Homeland Security to the private-sector outfits that blundered the website.

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue ranks 15th, with $185.3 billion. Advanced industrial products account for $107.5 billion, including transportation equipment (i.e. airplanes), advanced machinery, electronics and chemicals/plastics. Agriculture and energy products make up the biggest portions of the other goods.

Seattle runs a trade surplus thanks to aerospace. Our international trade share is nearly 21 percent, ranking us No. 12 out of 100 metros.

That can seem very good compared with some peer metros. For example, Phoenix, about metro Seattle’s population, only ranks 51st in international trade share. In all goods, however, it is 13th, while Seattle is 15th. Most metros trade domestically.

Austin offers the more cautionary tale. It is the 36th most populous metro (Seattle is 15th) and ranks 42nd in total goods trade. Yet it has a strong international footprint, and nearly 76 percent of its goods is in advanced industrial products, especially electronics. Seattle’s comparable share is 58 percent.

And remember, Seattle is competing against Silicon Valley and San Francisco for talent, capital and the best entrepreneurial ideas.

The report states:

Overall, the analysis shows that the 100 largest American metropolitan areas trade the greatest volume of and the most valuable goods. Products leaving these places are worth more than the products entering them. In particular, metro areas that specialize in the most advanced industrial, such as electronics and precision instruments, tend to trade goods with an average volume significantly higher than other places. These places are also more globally oriented than the rest of the country.

Rounding out the Northwest: Boise ranks 96th with $28.3 billion in total goods trade. Agriculture helps it grab No. 29 in international share. It is the 83rd most populous metro.

Portland, No. 24 in population, ranks 28th in goods trade, $140 billion. Portland’s international share is 13.6 percent, ranking it 47 out of 100.

You can read the entire report here.

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