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In the beginning of 2010, with U.S. output growth modest and job growth nonexistent, President Obama devoted a portion of his State of the Union Address to “fi xing the problems that are hampering our growth.” One of these problems, according to the president, was a lack of international export sales. The president linked an increase in exports to an increase in jobs, and pledged to double the nation’s exports over the next five years.2 Since then, export growth has emerged as a key tenet of numerous economic visions including those of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution which has suggested that the “next economy” in the West and nationally will likely be “export-oriented, lower-carbon, and innovation-driven.”3 This report focuses attention on the benefits of exporting and highlights the existing and emerging strengths—and some weaknesses—of the Intermountain West’s large metropolitan areas in global trade. Doubling exports, whether or not it happens in the next fi ve years, would be a major boon to the Intermountain West’s largest metropolitan areas. Such a doubling would bring the West’s large metros thousands of good jobs and see them expand on their existing strengths in the world economy. The prospect of such gains is especially attractive in the Mountain zone, moreover, given the present moment of self-refl ection in a region that appears faced with the partial breakdown of its traditional migration- and real estate-driven growth machine. With such sources of domestically-driven growth looking less reliable, export-based development holds out one possible new source of sustainable job-creation and broadly shared prosperity. International exports, after all, present an important opportunity for the Mountain metros and promise tremendous benefi ts to workers, companies, regions, and the nation as a whole. Export markets in Brazil, India, and China are growing rapidly at a time of slower projected domestic growth. Export-related jobs pay relatively well. And for metropolitan area industry clusters and firms, international engagement and competition brings its own benefits of heightened innovation and productivity growth. In this respect, it is a good thing that metropolitan areas in the Mountain West already have depth in a variety of export industries, and in some cases enjoy high rates of industrial innovation—both a result of firms’ engagement in international competition and a driver of further global competitiveness itself. All in all, numerous metropolitan areas in the Mountain West could be well-positioned to benefit from the current national focus on doubling exports and from targeted metropolitan efforts to expand the foreign markets for their goods and services. To take advantage of their global connections and the new federal focus on exports, however, the region’s metropolitan areas-particularly those that have been heavily oriented to population growth and real estate development—will have to rethink what they do and how they do it. They will have to look outward. They will have to be more innovative, both in determining what new products and services they develop and in retooling their existing activities to capture a larger share of global demand. And they will need to be deliberate and strategic in their efforts. In sum, while bolstering exports will not replace the thousands of jobs lost to the Great Recession—many of them real estate and locally-serving jobs that disappeared once migration and consumption slowed down—the export of goods and services is likely to be an important source of quality and sustainable job growth for the region in the future. Western leaders should at a minimum investigate that possibility and consider the data and information presented in the following pages.


Economic development; Export trading companies; Job creation; Manufacturing industries; Service industries; West(U.S.)


Business | Economic Policy | Growth and Development | Public Economics | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning



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