Growth in Minnesota exports is down compared with last year, and well behind the pace needed to reach the governor's goal of doubling exports by 2017.

The state's exports grew 2 percent in the first six months of the year to $10.3 billion, led by computer and electronics, machinery, transportation equipment and food, according to new data from the U.S. International Trade Administration. Last year, exports grew 7.3 percent from 2010.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced in March an initiative designed to double exports from the Twin Cities by 2017, based in part on the conviction that most market growth in this century will occur outside the United States. To reach that goal, businesses in the metro area would have to increase exports by nearly 15 percent per year.

While the latest numbers are nowhere near that pace, state and federal officials said Tuesday they believe the goal can be achieved.

"We've set a high standard in setting our goal at doubling exports over the next five years," said Katie Clark, director of the Minnesota Trade Office. "We think it's possible, and we're hard at work making sure that we're supporting small and mid-sized companies to try to reach that level."

The figures the federal government released this week are less detailed than figures tracked by the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Trade Office is due to release its second-quarter report in the next couple of weeks.

Slower growth in 2012 than last year is caused partly by weakened demand in the financially fragile European Union, Clark said. But exports to Canada, China and Mexico were strong in the second quarter.

Any growth is good, she said, and Minnesota exports set another record in the first half of the year.

The state trade office, Greater MSP, the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Commercial Service are rolling out a series of initiatives this year to try to encourage businesses in Minnesota to start selling in foreign countries.

The efforts include studies of what help businesses need to export more quickly, new ways to brand the Twin Cities abroad, refined strategies on outgoing trade missions such as Dayton's recent visit to China, workshops for small businesses, templates for how to handle incoming trade missions and something called "global fluency" -- the degree to which people and businesses in the Twin Cities think on a global scale.

"We're just getting the flywheel going," said Janelle Weyek, a commercial officer with the U.S. Commercial Service.

Her agency helps small businesses figure out how to export, makes connections with potential customers in foreign countries and arranges business development trips abroad for Minnesota executives.

Right now Weyek's office is working on an agriculture trade show in Russia. She won't guarantee that the state or the metro can double exports, but she thinks the goal can be reached and serves as a healthy motivator.

"Stretch objectives get people there," she said. "American culture is a get-it-done culture."

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405