Program launched to bolster exports


Exports are surging in the Charleston region, and a new partnership with a federally backed campaign should grow the region’s offshore reach even more.

That was the message delivered by the World Trade Center Charleston and other officials on Wednesday.

Francisco Sánchez, undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the Charleston metro region exported more than $2.4 billion in merchandise in 2012, up nearly 6 percent from 2011.

Wednesday’s announcement came just weeks after it was reported that South Carolina sold $25.3 billion in goods to overseas buyers in 2012, a record-setting year boosted by shipments of luxury BMWs, car tires and electrical machinery.

Sánchez released the data during the unveiling of the “Charleston Metropolitan Area Export Strategy” with local officials and business leaders. The new initiative is a partnership between his agency and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

Last year, Brookings identified Charleston as one of eight communities selected to participate in a program to help develop a plan to increase exports based on local assets and capacities.

“The Charleston community and I share two important goals – to increase exports from local businesses and attract more foreign direct investment to our shores,” Sánchez said.

Officials said there remains more work to be done since U.S. exports pale in comparison to other nations such as Japan, India, China and Canada.

Geoff Schuler, chief operating officer of Boeing South Carolina and a participant in the Brookings project, said Wednesday there are some weaknesses and opportunities with growing exports. For instance, medium-sized companies need help with growing reach and knowledge of overseas exporting.

“Small to mid-sized companies have a mind-set to go national instead of international,” Schuler said.

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He added other weaknesses include the limited direct international flights and air cargo in the region.

Schuler said the region should play on strengths, such as its international appeal within tourism and its expanding port.

A final export strategy plan is expected to be finalized in August.

Jim Newsome, chief executive of the State Ports Authority, said the increase in export activity is one reason it’s so critical to deepen Charleston Harbor to 50 feet from 45 feet. The dredging project will enable the port to accommodate the bigger, heavier ships that are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.