Alabama exports rose to a record level in 2016, topping $20 billion for the first time on gains from overseas shipments of Alabama-made products such as transportation equipment, chemicals and paper products.

Figures from the U.S. Commerce Department show that Alabama exports totaled $20.55 billion last year, an increase of 6.4 percent from 2015’s results. That exceeds the state’s previous annual export record of $19.58 billion, set in 2012.

“The increases in these numbers show Alabama companies are prospering in the global economy. These exports continue to be powerful growth engines for our state by supporting their communities through job creation,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.

“We will continue to support Alabama businesses as they grow to reach new markets and new customers because when businesses succeed, Alabama succeeds.”

The record tally for 2016 shows that Alabama’s export machine continues to gain momentum over the long haul. Exports from Alabama companies have risen 15 percent since 2011 and 48 percent since 2006, according to government trade data.

“Alabama’s dynamic manufacturing base turns out a wide range of great products that consumers in markets around the world want to own, which creates jobs and opportunity here at home,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Setting a new record for exports last year shows that ‘Made in Alabama’ is not a slogan but a fundamental economic pillar supporting economic growth in our state,” he added.

Profitable markets

In 2016, Alabama-made goods were exported to 189 countries in every corner of the world. The top five destinations, led by Canada, accounted for nearly half of Alabama’s exports last year. These markets are:

  • Canada: $4.1 billion, up 1 percent.
  • China: $3.4 billion, up 8.5 percent.
  • Germany: $3.2 billion, up 29 percent.
  • Mexico: $2.6 billion, down 9 percent.
  • United Kingdom: $559 million, down 8 percent.

Rounding out the top 10 are Japan, South Korea, United Arab Emirates (UAE), France and Australia. Countries posting large gains in imports from Alabama in 2016 include Denmark (335 percent), Kuwait (285 percent), Russia (219 percent), Taiwan (130 percent) and Sweden (126 percent).

“Exports are a key component of the state’s economic growth and make for a more prosperous Alabama,” said Hilda Lockhart, director of Commerce’s Office of International Trade. “It is encouraging to see this continued rise in exports because we know that it is growing jobs and sustaining our companies in a great multitude of industry sectors.”

While Alabama exports rose in 2016, U.S. exports fell 3 percent. Alabama ranked No. 23 among the states for exports last year, up two spots from the previous year, Lockhart said.

Powering increases

Steel coils are unloaded from a ship at the Port of Mobile. The steel will later be exported in the form of Alabama-made automobiles. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

Transportation equipment, which includes motor vehicles and parts as well as aerospace products, remained Alabama’s No. 1 export category, with overseas shipments approaching $10.7 billion last year. Exports in the segment increased nearly 15 percent in value during 2016, twice the rate of growth registered in the prior year.

Alabama-built automobiles were by far the state’s top export in 2016, rising 13 percent to $7.9 billion. The value of exported motor vehicle parts fell slightly to $1.2 billion, according to data.

Exports of Alabama-made aerospace products and parts posted a significant gain in 2016, surging 65 percent to $1.4 billion. That was on top of a 16 percent increase in 2015.

Other key Alabama export categories were:

  • Chemicals: $2.2 billion, up 3 percent.
  • Primary metals: $1.5 billion, down 6 percent.
  • Paper products: $1 billion, up 29 percent.
  • Machinery (except electrical): $910,000, down 15 percent.

Finding opportunities

With expanding exports listed as a priority in Accelerate Alabama 2.0, the state’s updated economic development growth plan, Canfield said it is important for Alabama to have a well-developed support system to assist homegrown business in finding new markets.

Expanded exports are a priority in the state’s newly revised economic growth plan. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

“Many Alabama companies, including small businesses, participate in the global economy through exporting, giving them access to new markets and trade relationships that boost their bottom lines,” he said. “At Commerce, we are committed to assisting Alabama businesses of all sizes find success both at home and abroad. That’s why we see exporting as vital.”

Commerce’s International Trade Office offers resources to help Alabama companies enter profitable new overseas markets through frequent trade and business development missions, training, foreign-market information and international contacts.

Commerce is a partner in the Export Alabama Alliance, a seamless network of international trade agencies that share the fundamental objective of helping Alabama companies expand their business internationally.

“The Export Alabama Alliance has played a significant role in facilitating Alabama exports by providing a full range of export services to the state’s small- and medium-sized businesses,” Lockhart said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.