The Charleston economy, like the U.S. economy, increasingly depends on global trade. And boosting either economy demands boosting exports. That means more businesses in these parts need to get into the export business.
Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, brought that timely message here Wednesday. He addressed the World Trade Center Charleston, where he joined local business leaders for the kickoff of the “Charleston Metropolitan Area Export Strategy.”
Earlier that day, in a visit to this newspaper, he listed “basic ingredients” that put Charleston on the list of eight cities added last year to the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Export Initiative, a program that is working in partnership with the Obama administration.
Undersecretary Sanchez cited “manufacturing, transportation and a history of trade” as crucial assets for Charleston in this mission.
Mr. Sanchez acknowledged the importance of deepening Charleston Harbor if we are to elevate our exports once the Panama Canal widening makes larger cargo ships a world-commerce mainstay. Yet he fairly pointed out that he has no say on funding for that essential project.
And he stressed that the administration’s collaboration with Brookings aims to help businesses here “fully access the federal resources that are available” to raise export levels.
Exports already are bolstering our local and state economies. The Charleston metro area exported more than $2.4 billion in merchandise in 2012, a 6 percent climb over 2011. South Carolina exported more than $25 billion in 2012, setting a record for our state.
But while such companies as BMW and Boeing obviously contribute heavily to South Carolina’s export statistics, many smaller companies that produce smaller products in our state have been, well, missing the boat on the international market.
In the 21st century global marketplace, when you neglect export opportunities, you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage.
As Undersecretary Sanchez told us: “U.S. businesses that have an exportable good or an exportable service and aren’t exporting do so at their own peril.”
The good news is that a growing number of South Carolina businesses with exportable potential are catching on to that bottom-line reality.
More good news: The Obama administration has accurately identified Charleston and South Carolina as fertile ground for growing exports — and jobs.
Now about that port-deepening project ...