Metropolitan America

National trade statistics have been in the news lately, but the figures tell us little about what we produce and sell in our own communities. The Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program developed an interactive tool called Export Monitor to better understand the role of exports in economic recovery, growth, and employment among American counties and metropolitan areas.

The data tracks exports of both goods and services, which recognizes the underlying shift in our economy towards value creation through the provision of services. The Brookings data set also derives estimates based on where goods or services are produced, not the location where it was exported. That’s important because it gives us a truer picture of the role of exports in specific localities, rather than simply rolling the data up to the regional level, state, or national level where there’s much more economic diversity and therefore harder to see the patterns at the community level. The data do not account for a metro area’s use of imports in production, which could give a fuller picture of trade flows, however.

Explore the tool by entering a metro area you want to learn about. Or, choose an industry to see which cities export that good or service, how much, and the degree to which exports drive that metro area’s economic productivity.

Brookings Export Monitor 2015

Every city has its story. Many city names will be less familiar. Albany, Georgia exports agriculture and paper products with exports driving nine percent of its growth. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is a powerhouse manufacturer of engines and power equipment, exporting $68 million worth in 2015. A full 28 percent of its economy depends on exports. Laredo, Texas provided $181 million in freight and port services in 2015, facilitating billions in trade, but exports from Laredo only constitute five percent of its local GDP.

Search by medical services, and your hunch will be confirmed that the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania medical triangle exports more than any other U.S. metro area. That region also exports more in value of retail services, legal services, educational services, financial, and accounting services than any other U.S. metro area. In fact, at $126.5 billion in total exports in 2015, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania ranks number one out of 381 metro areas, but with exports driving nine percent of its GDP, the area ranks just #247 out of the 381 for export dependence. That’s because its economy is so large and varied, it is less “export intensive” than smaller cities that might rely on one or a handful of industries or companies.


TradeVistas is interested to explore how cities are reinventing themselves to compete in the global economy. Watch for more Features and Journeys on this theme.


Additional resource:
In this totally wide data visualization, Max Galka demonstrates which cities are the beating heart of the U.S. economy. In this pulsating map, every county in the United States is shown in proportion to its share of U.S. GDP.