U.S. targets big cities in campaign to double export

  • Article by: KEVIN G. HALL , McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Updated: August 17, 2013 - 10:51 PM
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A worker at Plasticard-Locktech International in Asheville, North Carolina, adjusts machinery settings at plant where printed magnetic plastic cards are made. The company has become a formidable exporter of hotel key cards and gift cards.

Photo: Kevin G. Hall, Mct - Mct

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– Nestled in the westernmost part of North Carolina, which is best known for its wood furniture, Plasticard-Locktech International is at first blush an unlikely exporter. Its calling card is plastic cards, the kind that are used to get into a hotel room or stuck inside a birthday card as a gift.

But the company, commonly known as Plicards, is the kind of exporter the Obama administration is after in its ambitious plan to double exports to more than $3 trillion by the end of next year.

The goal, called the National Export Initiative, seems unlikely to be met. The effort to double 2010’s sum of $1.8 trillion in exports nonetheless has spurred a push to encourage smaller companies to jump into global trade.

It’s also led to the Metropolitan Export Initiative, which helps big cities — 13 of them so far — take stock of the trade-related assets they have and marshal resources to boost exports.

The initiative helps participating cities create customized export plans. It also guides companies to better understand their foreign markets, taps into assistance programs and links exporters with shippers.

“The export initiative made a lot of sense. It’s another way of saying a competitiveness initiative,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C., one of the cities that the Commerce Department is considering for an export push. “What we’ve seen more in North Carolina is the ‘reshoring’: Some industry is coming back.”

U.S. exports reached a record $2.2 trillion last year. But given a slowdown in China and Europe’s recession, reaching President Obama’s goal next year remains a steep climb. The U.S. Commerce Department is trying to close that gap with efforts to boost exports from large metropolitan areas.

A major challenge in boosting exports is that the United States is the world’s largest economy, so many companies put their focus here. But 95 percent of the world’s population is abroad and presents a huge growth opportunity.

The financial crisis prompted some companies to turn to exports to make up for falling U.S. demand.

“Since 2008, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of companies that are interested in exporting,” said Greg Sizemore, the director of the Commerce Department’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh, N.C. “We’re over capacity in terms of the number of calls from companies interested in exporting.”

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