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Published in the Boca Raton Tribune

April 26, 2013   

By Carlo Barbieri


Part 1 of a 2-part series

International Trade a Major Segment of Florida’s Economy

Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on two revenue generators – tourism and foreign trade.  In previous columns, we have discussed the financial impact of tourism, particularly in the South Florida/Boca Raton area as well as the central part of the state where theme parks and other amusements are familiar draws.

This column will focus on international trade which, again in 2012, proved to be one of the state’s strongest economic sectors, according to a March 2013 report from Enterprise Florida Inc.  Florida-origin exports reached an all-time high of $66.4 billion while total merchandise trade (exports plus imports) hit a record $162.2 billion.

The report says Florida continues to have the highest trade surplus among all U.S. states, a reflection of the state’s role as a global hub in the Western Hemisphere.  International trade and investment accounted for about one-sixth of the state’s economic output last year and supports an estimated one million jobs, further underscoring its importance to the state’s financial coffers.

Also underscored by the report is the fact that trade and foreign investment play a fundamental role in Florida’s economy by fueling growth, supporting jobs and diversifying the economic infrastructure.

The upbeat assessment from Enterprise Florida generally dovetails with a report by the Florida Chamber of Commerce which proclaims the Sunshine State’s total trade activity has grown by some 69 percent since 2007 when the Great Recession struck.

The Florida Chamber says international trade volume is a useful indicator of the state’s overall economic activity. As imports and exports increase, Florida employers may require additional employees to handle the growing level of commerce throughout the state.

Although most economic developers focus on export value, strong imports can indicate improvement in consumer demand and also create transportation and logistics jobs for Floridians. In the months prior to the 2012 holiday season, trade activity suggested retail sales in Florida would increase as imports reached levels unseen since the onset of the Great Recession.

Typically after the “peak season,” total trade activity declines primarily because of a drop-off in imports. However, recent data from the Census Bureau suggest Florida’s trade activity in November held strong — relatively unchanged as the 2.7 percent growth in imports nearly offset the 3 percent decrease in exports.

Trade activity growth in Florida appeared stronger than that of the U.S. as a whole as labor union disputes hindered the nation’s largest seaports. As a right-to-work state, Florida has very little in the way of labor strife.  The strike last year of stagehands at the KravisCenter that delayed the opening of “Jersey Boys” stood out because of the general scarcity of union troubles.

As one would expect with standard seasonal variation experienced in the month of November, U.S. imports and exports declined. The Los Angeles Port strike provides one possible explanation in the sharp decline in imports, as L.A. is the largest port in the U.S.  California Public Radio reported that the one-week strike caused a 16 percent decrease in container volumes in November 2012 when compared to November 2011. However, this fact should not discount the positive activity occurring at Florida ports. Encouraging additional international trade through Florida will be a key driver of the state’s future economy.

Here are a few bullet points about Florida’s economy from EnterpriseFlorida:

Next Column: The Trade Connection between Florida and Brazil


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