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Wisconsin economy seeing increase in international trade activity

By   /   August 2, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Wisconsin’s economy sustained a big jump in imports from abroad and a modest bump in exports during the first five months of the year, prompting financial observers around the state to feel bullish about the remainder of 2017.

“I obviously think that anytime you have free trade, it is positive,” Joe Jurken, the senior at The ABC Group in Milwaukee, told Watchdog.org.

Recently released export and import figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that from January to May of this year, imports in Wisconsin shot up 24.3 percent over the same period in 2016. By comparison, the state’s total exports during the first five months of this year were up 6.5 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the Census Bureau’s seasonally unadjusted figures.

For exported manufactured goods only, Wisconsin’s numbers for January through May were up 4.9 percent over the same period last year.

Looking at the Census Bureau’s figures for May only, Wisconsin’s imports increased 30.9 percent over May 2016.

One key driver in the increase in imports is the U.S. dollar strengthening against China’s yuan in recent months. The dollar’s strength makes it favorable for foreign companies to sell goods in the United States, said Jurken, whose firm specializes in helping companies export their wares to China.

He predicted that Wisconsin imports during the remainder of the year could continue to increase, while exports should continue at the same pace or begin to soften.

“We would love to see Wisconsin companies export more,” he said, adding that it’s often a difficult task to sell in China due to trade barriers.

Even though there has been talk about the United States putting up tariffs on foreign goods entering the nation since President Donald Trump took office, that talk hasn’t affected business activity so far in 2017, Jurken said. The status quo remains a good thing for the state, as opposed to the potential of a trade war, he said.

Wisconsin’s bump in exports mirrors a national trend. Exports from companies throughout the United States during the first five months of 2017 were up 6.6 percent over the same period of the previous year, according to the Census Bureau.

Figures compiled by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) for the first quarter of 2017 mirror the Census Bureau numbers.

“Wisconsin businesses exported $5.32 billion in goods and services worldwide in the first three months of 2017, a 4.8 percent increase over the first quarter of 2016 – a promising start to the new year,” WEDC spokesman Mark Maley told Watchdog.org.

The export growth was pegged to a rise in shipments to Mexico, China and Saudi Arabia, according to Maley. Shipments to Saudi Arabia spiked 100 percent in the first quarter due to an increase in military vehicle sales, he said.

Exports to Canada, the state’s largest trading partner, inched up 1.7 percent to $1.6 billion during the first three months of the year, Maley said, and overall agricultural exports to foreign nations were up 5.5 percent over the same period in 2016. Among those exports were hefty increases in Wisconsin oil seeds, such as soy beans.

The state’s top export, industrial machinery, declined 4.7 percent in the first quarter, he said, following a trend that’s lasted several years as low oil prices have held down demand for such equipment in the oil and gas industry.

Even so, among all states, Wisconsin is No. 21 in terms of total exports, Maley said, adding that the state exports goods and services to 182 nations.

“Wisconsin led the nation in exports of more than two dozen different products, including outboard marine engines, firefighting vehicles, cranberries, prepared sweet corn, pickles, fur skins and ginseng roots,” he said in an email.

Other officials are hopeful that the state’s economy will continue to rev up during the rest of the year.

“We are encouraged by the first-quarter numbers and hope to see this trend continue for the remainder of 2017,” Katy Sinnott, the WEDC’s vice president of international business development, told Watchdog.org. “Wisconsin saw growth in exports to four of the state’s five largest trade destinations as well as most of our top product categories, which is a great way to start the year.”

Despite a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States, Wisconsin has seen some employment growth in that sector over the past year. The number of manufacturing jobs in the state since January is up by nearly 4,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Wisconsin manufacturing workforce in June stood at 472,000, 1.7 percent above where it was a year earlier, the BLS said.