As the recession fades, Minnesota companies are seeing real growth in exports rather than just a recovery from the downturn, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said Friday.

Exports of agricultural, mining and manufactured products reached a record $5.4 billion in the second quarter, with manufacturing leading the way. That broke the previous record of $5.3 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

The manufacturing sector grew 3.4 percent and accounted for the largest share of foreign sales, at $4.9 billion.

"Our exports are growing at a bit slower pace than they were last year and the year before, but the growth in those years reflected a rebound from the recession," said Katie Clark, executive director of the Minnesota Trade Office. "Our export totals now are above pre-recession levels, so we're seeing real growth at this stage."

Sales in North America, mostly to Canada, accounted for 36 percent of the state's exports.

While exports to China grew by 32 percent, sales to Asia overall and to the European Union fell by 1.2 percent and 5 percent respectively. Both regions are mired in financial crisis.

Exports to Europe, typically a steady customer for Minnesota goods, dropped largely because of a sharp decline in exports to the United Kingdom and Spain, Clark said. The bright spot in Europe was Germany, Minnesota's fifth-largest trading partner worldwide, where Minnesota exports were down a modest 1.1 percent, she said.

"As long as Germany holds strong, it will help our over-all exports, because they carry more weight than many other nations," she said.

Top export market segments were machinery, the state's largest export, followed by optical, medical instruments and electrical machinery. A subset of strictly medical exports climbed 11 percent to $714 million, the first growth in that sector during the second quarter since 2007.

"Many small and midsize companies are creating new jobs and a healthier economy in Minnesota through growing their export business," Clark said.

The full report can be found at • 612-673-7335 • 612-673-4553