Region’s Exports Rebound

By: James Haggerty
Courtesy of the Times-Tribune
Regional exports staged a turnaround in 2012 after plummeting in 2011.
Businesses in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area registered $1.4 billion in foreign sales, according to most-recent data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The total represents a $166 million advance from the region’s 2011 total. The 17 percent rally in 2012 offset a 22.5 percent decrease in 2011 from 2010.
“There was an improvement, but it’s hard to pinpoint where the growth is,” said Michael Horvath, international business development manager for the NEPA Alliance, a Pittston-based economic development agency.
“We are a global player to the tune of over $1 billion,” said Teri Ooms, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, a regional research and analysis organization. “That’s pretty big and it’s pretty impressive.”
The 2012 gain advanced the region to 128th among 370 metro areas where Commerce Department tracks export volumes. The area’s ranking was 133rd in 2011.
The metro area rated 32nd among urban areas nationwide in overseas shipments of plastic materials, which were valued at $175.6 million. The region placed 56th in chemical products shipments, which totaled $251 million.
Local exports constituted 3 percent of the state’s total in 2012, up from 2.4 percent in 2011, government data show.
Some expansion comes from the continuing weakness of the dollar against other major currencies, making U.S. products more attractive overseas, Mr. Horvath said.
“It has been a good environment for exports,” he said. “Some the of our clients at small companies are developing more distributors overseas.”
Export volumes point to the continuing importance of manufacturing in the local economy, Ms. Ooms said.
About 11 percent of people employed in the metro work in manufacturing, state data indicate.
“People often complain that manufacturing has gone away,” Ms. Ooms said. “We have a pretty significant cluster of manufacturing firms that is contributing to our economy.”
Many manufacturers look to foreign markets to protect against downturns in the domestic economy.
Trion Industries Inc., a Wilkes-Barre producer of display hooks, shelving products, labeling and fixtures for retail stores, ships about 5 percent of its products to foreign destinations, company president John Thalenfeld said.
“Most of our exports go to Canada,” Mr. Thalenfeld said.
The company also has a distributor in Australia, but a joint venture Trion entered into in Europe folded about four years ago, Mr. Thalenfeld said.
“Europe is a tough market,” he said. “There are companies there that make the same type of products that we do.”
Trion does about 75 percent of its foreign business in Canada. Mexico also is a prime market because of proximity, Mr. Thalenfeld said.
“Those markets are easier for us to crack,” he said. “Freight is not a big factor.” he said.