Minnesota exports jumped 7 percent during the second quarter, with sales of $5.1 billion in manufactured, mined and farmed products, state officials reported Thursday.
The state performed better than the nation as a whole, which saw exports rise 5.9 percent during the same period.
Minnesota exports to Asia proved particularly robust from April through June, climbing 13 percent to $1.7 billion, amid double-digit upticks in product shipments to China (up 12 percent to $566 million) and Japan (up 29 percent to $309 million).
Export declines previously seen for Canada — Minnesota's largest trading partner — recovered during the quarter, rising 2 percent from a year ago to $1.1 billion. But sales to the important market of Mexico slumped 3 percent to $586 million.
The boost in total exports thrust Minnesota forward, a welcome change from 2016 when state exports fell 4 percent.
"Minnesota exports through the first six months of [this] year are up a healthy 6.4 percent, helping to drive job growth and the overall economy," said Shawntera Hardy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "With global economic activity picking up, the state is well-positioned to continue growing exports for the foreseeable future."
South Korea, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Singapore were among the state's top partners increasing product orders during the second quarter. Orders from Germany were down 12 percent to $190 million, and Belgium's were down 15 percent to $167 million.
State officials reported that select Minnesota-made products were in high demand across much of the globe — including optic and medical goods, which saw sales rise 7 percent to $923 million during the quarter.
Other top-selling items included: machinery ($810 million, up 7 percent); electrical machinery ($659 million, up 3 percent); plastics ($326 million, up 11 percent); and aircraft/spacecraft ($208 million, up 50 percent).
Hardy noted that the bump in aircraft and spacecraft exports grew amid new orders from the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Minnesota products experiencing a drop in shipments included vehicles, which fell 9 percent to $338 million, and food byproducts, which saw sales fall 15 percent to $120 million.
Minnesota economists and Iron Rangers were particularly thrilled that ore, slag and ash exports tripled to $112 million during the quarter. That signaled that the industry's much-needed recovery continues. State officials noted that the sector's increase was driven by increases in iron ore orders.
After two years of price declines, layoffs and idled factories, Minnesota's iron ore mines and taconite pellet plants on the Iron Range are back in production.
Hardy's office noted that ore exports to Canada and Japan grew significantly during the quarter.
U.S. Steel is a big reason. The company reopened its idled Keetac plant in Keewatin earlier this year. The taconite plant had been idle since May 2015 when a shutdown displaced more than 400 workers.
That plant reopened over January and February, spurred by the need to supply a Canadian steel mill customer, which company officials declined to name.
The Iron Mining Association of Minnesota (IMA) also credited some increases to a rising demand for machinery and appliances; to the reopening of several Minnesota iron mines that were idled last year; and to steps the U.S. government took to halt the illegal dumping of underpriced steel into the United States by China, England, South Korea and other nations. (Iron ore is the raw key ingredient to steel.)
IMA President Kelsey Johnson said Thursday's export report was good news. "This increase in exports shows that Minnesota's iron mining industry is slowly coming around."