Export Nation: U.S. Metros and National Export Growth

Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab - Drexel University

July 27, 2010

At an event to launch and discuss the report “Export Nation,” Bruce Katz highlighted the major findings from the analysis of U.S. exports of goods and services produced in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. The report shows that leveraging U.S. metropolitan strengths can reset the nation’s economic trajectory. The full presentation and text are available below. Watch clips from the event here.


Thank you Jamie (Rubin), for that introduction and for your leadership and guidance throughout this effort.

Before proceeding, I want to first thank my colleagues, Emilia Istrate and Jonathan Rothwell, for tackling this critical but unexplored topic with intellectual rigor, dogged persistence, and good humor.

The report we feature today describes how America’s metropolitan areas can lead the nation to a different kind of economy, an economy that creates quality jobs with good wages by exporting more goods and services abroad. 

In a global economy exports begin at home, with private sector firms seizing market opportunities beyond our borders.

Thus, it is best to begin with a story that takes us to Atlanta, Georgia and a small company with large export ambitions.

The company is Suniva, the products they make and sell are high efficiency silicon solar cells and high power solar modules. Between their founding in 2007 and the end of 2009 they have racked up nearly $1 billion in orders from India and Europe. 

The company is the brainchild of Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi, an Indian born scientist educated in the United States.  Like inventors before, Dr. Rohatgi was able to commercialize advanced research he conducted in the academy, in his case, the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ninety percent of Suniva’s sales in 2009 were exports; 85 percent of the content of their products is U.S. made.  The company is now working to build a second plant in Saginaw, Michigan… a symbol of economic renewal for that troubled industrial state.

Suniva represents how the U.S. builds, firm by firm, the Next American Economy and, in the process, creates millions of private sector jobs.

The Suniva economy is one that we at Brookings describe as export oriented, low carbon, innovation fueled, and opportunity rich.  In other words, an economy where we export more and waste less, innovate in what matters, produce and deploy more of what we invent and make economic growth work for the many rather than the few.

The report we release today focuses on exports and makes three critical points.

First, the U.S. must and can become an Export Nation.  This is a recipe for a job filled rather than jobless recovery and a vehicle for raising our standards of living, tapping new sources of global demand and bringing balance back to our economy. 

Second, U.S. metros will be the vanguard of national export growth. Metro areas, here and abroad, are the hubs of trade, commerce and migration and the centers for talent, capital and innovation.  They are the path to an Export Nation.

Finally, we must connect the macro export vision to the metropolitan export reality, the macro to the metro. For too long, export policy has been narrowly confined to macro levers like currency exchange and trade agreements.  It is time to boost exports through broader federal, state and metropolitan interventions on innovation and infrastructure, education and immigration, trade promotion and cluster expansion.  This is a competitiveness agenda, designed to improve the quality of the goods and services we produce in the U.S. and better connect firms and the goods and services they produce to global markets.

I’ve already used the word “export” 14 times in the last two minutes …which leads to an initial question, “What is an Export?”

People typically think of exports as goods that are manufactured here, put in a box and placed on a ship that takes them to foreign markets.  That is only part of the story and overlooks the growing importance of service exports.

When a U.S. firm designs a building in Shanghai, that’s a service export

When a foreign student pays tuition at an American university, that is also a service export.

 A service export can include a tourist from abroad paying to see the sights in New York.

 And it can include royalties for American movies and music that are consumed abroad.