Commerce official encourages Alaska export growth

ANCHORAGE — In a June 7 speech before the Export Council of Alaska, U.S. Department of Commerce Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sanchez outlined federal efforts to improve the national export economy.

U.S. exports grew by 4.5 percent in 2012 to a record $2.2 trillion, Sanchez told the council. In 2009, American companies exported $1.58 trillion worth of goods and services, according to the Commerce Department.

“Nationwide, exports support nearly 10 million American jobs,” he said.

Sanchez credited the growth in part to President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative. The president announced the initiative in his 2010 State of the Union address when he set a goal to double U.S. exports and generate 2 million related jobs by 2015.

Export industries provide jobs with higher than average wages, Sanchez said, many that are small business jobs. He added that of the 673 Alaska businesses that exported in 2012, 73 percent were small and medium-sized businesses. They accounted for roughly 40 percent of the state’s total exports, he said.

Alaska exported $4.5 billion worth of goods in 2012, down from the record $5.2 billion in 2011, although the 2012 figure is expected to grow by about 4 percent, or $130 million, this year, according to a Northern Economics report.

Sanchez said exports have grown in Alaska because of the partnership between local and federal officials.

“The (World Trade Center Alaska) and the Export Council of Alaska have been extraordinary. We’ve worked together to promote Alaskan exports and we couldn’t do our job without you,” he said.

About half of the state’s exports go to China and Japan, Sanchez said, and he encouraged Alaska businesses to look at expanding and emerging markets around the world.

The United States currently has free trade agreements with 20 countries and the federal government is in negotiations to form additional Pacific and Atlantic trade and investment partnerships. The Trans-Pacific Partnership has nine participating countries that include Southeast Asian nations as well as Australia, New Zealand and Chile, along with the United States.

If finalized, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would work to improve trade relations between the United States and the European Union.

“With these agreements we are creating a 21st century model for trade agreements,” Sanchez told the council. “The goal is to make exports easier for American companies.”

An extension of the National Export Initiative is the Metropolitan Export Initiative, run by the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. The localized initiative is focused on helping cities “take stock” of their assets viable for international commerce, Sanchez said. Once it’s known what business an area can do, a regional export promotion plan is developed, he explained.

Sanchez announced to the crowd that the Department of Commerce is holding what he called a “first of its kind investor summit” in Washington, D.C., at the end of October. He urged state and local officials to attend the summit.

“(The investment summit) is going to be a place where investors from all over the world come and hear about all the great opportunities we have and they can meet with local economic development officials,” Sanchez said. “I believe that exports and investment go hand-in-hand.”

He noted that roughly 5 percent of all private sector jobs in Alaska are with foreign companies working in the state.

Sanchez also made a push for increased focus on international tourism in Alaska, and referenced Icelandair’s first flights to Anchorage this summer as major progress. He said international tourists stay longer and spend more money on average than Americans traveling to other states.

Nationwide, Sanchez said, international tourists spent a record $168 billion in 2012 and spent $43 billion in the first quarter of this year, a 9 percent increase year-over-year.

Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.