State's exports rose 8% in 2001

Increase contrasts with 6% drop for nation as a whole

2nd straight year of growth

March 26, 2002|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Despite the nation's sluggish economy, exports by Maryland companies rose 8 percent last year, the second consecutive year of growth according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Maryland exported $4.97 billion in goods last year, while the nation's exports totaled $731 billion, down 6 percent from 2000.

"I certainly didn't expect this ... [in terms of] national trends," said Peter C. O'Neill, director of the international trade office in the state's Department of Business and Economic Development. "It leaves us pleasantly surprised."

Computer and electronic products were the state's top export items for the third consecutive year, with $1.2 billion being sold overseas, according to the Census Bureau's trade statistics.

Transportation equipment was second with $802.6 million exported, followed by chemicals at $628.4 million.

O'Neill said he does not know why the growth of Maryland's exports outperformed the nation as a whole, but he believes that the state's wide variety of companies helped.

"The very fact that we have a very diversified economy here plays in our favor particularly when things go sour elsewhere," O'Neill said. "We are more apt to withstand downturns than maybe other states are."

Maryland companies export everything from electric guitars to coffee and teas to computer modems.

But the state is still not a big exporter compared with California, which had total exports of $106.8 billion last year; Texas, $95 billion; and New York, $42.2 billion.

Nearly 6,000 Maryland companies export on average 13 percent of their goods to countries around the globe. Canada, Belgium and the United Kingdom buy the most goods from companies in the state, the data showed.

Some of Maryland's largest exporters include Cohler Enterprises Inc., a Baltimore manufacturer; Maritime Applied Physics Corp., a Hanover engineering firm; and RTKL Associates Inc., a Baltimore architectural firm, the state said.

David Hudson, president of RTKL, said that overseas business produces about 35 percent to 40 percent of the company's total revenue. The company has work in 47 countries where it designs a wide variety of buildings ranging from offices to hospitals and hotels to museums.

"It is a significant business for us," Hudson said. "The overall message is that on the whole, it [overseas business] is doing well and growing."

O'Neill said that when the economy was booming, companies didn't consider exporting because they had plenty of domestic business.

But in the last six to eight months, Maryland firms have been calling his office looking for advice on how to build an export business, he said.

"The domestic market isn't enough. I think this is more about companies here realizing there are open markets," he said.

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