The United States exported a total of $2.26 trillion worth of goods and services in 2015, down slightly from a record high of $2.38 trillion in 2014. Exports accounted for an estimated 12.6% of total U.S. GDP and were a significant part of every state’s economy. Without exception, each state in the country exported more than $1 billion of goods in 2015.
To determine the top exported products in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed export data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Not all states engage in international trade to the same degree. Washington, for example, exported more than $50 billion worth of airplanes and airplane parts in 2015. Meanwhile, South Dakota’s largest export, pork, was worth just $145 million. In some states, the largest export would not even fall within the top 25 exports in another state.
Many products exist within a global supply chain and are often developed at their different stages across the country and around the world. An export product’s state of origin is defined as the state that actually ships the product abroad, and not necessarily the state that manufactured the product. Therefore, exports do not always reflect which state the product was originally manufactured or produced.
For example, Louisiana’s second and third largest exports are soybeans and corn. However, a majority of the state’s soybean and corn exports are likely produced in the Midwest, shipped down the Mississippi River, and ultimately exported from the port of New Orleans. So while Louisiana produces little soybean and corn yield on its own, the state still exported $9.04 billion and $4.02 billion worth of soybeans and corn respectively in 2015.
> Largest export: Medical instruments
> 2015 medical instruments value: $1.05 billion
> Pct. change in medical instruments export value (2014-2015): -0.2%
> Medical instruments as share of total state exports: 4.2%
Massachusetts exported $1.05 billion worth of medical instruments in 2015, more than any other product. Massachusetts ships many different products overseas, and no one industry dominates the state’s export economy. Medical instruments accounted for 4.2% of the state’s total exports, followed by semiconductor manufacturing machines and medical needles, which accounted for 4.1% and 4.0% of exports, respectively. The medical device industry employs roughly 22,000 Massachusetts residents, and employment in the industry may increase in the near future as the world’s aging population requires more medical care.
In many states, the most valuable export exists due to the presence of a clustering of companies within a given industry. For example, major automotive companies have footprints in the five states where the top export is either passenger vehicles or auto parts. Notably, one of these states is Michigan, which is home to the headquarters of the Big Three American automakers — Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. The remaining four states all host manufacturing and assembly plants of major domestic and foreign motor companies.
In many other states, the most valuable export is dictated primarily by the availability of natural resources. Including those states where an agricultural product is the most valuable export, more than a dozen states ship more of a single natural resource abroad than anything else. West Virginia, for example, exports more coal than any other state. It is no coincidence that 43 of 53 counties across the state have economically viable coal reserves.
No state could export anything without global demand and conditions that make international trade economically viable. Demand for lobster in certain Asian countries has picked up in recent years, and partially as a result, China is a primary destination of exports out of Maine.
In many states however, the most common destinations are Canada and Mexico. While this is the result of several factors, including geographic proximity, it is also likely a consequence of international trade agreements. Enacted in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, gradually eliminated trade tariffs between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. By some estimates, the total dollar value of trade between the three countries has nearly quadrupled between 1993 and 2016.
To determine the top-selling product in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2015 export data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The government classifies exports at a granular level, so we combined similar exports into larger categories. For example, dump trucks designed for off-highway use and diesel engine trucks, along with other truck-related goods, were combined into a single export category — trucks.
The largest export as a share of a state’s total exports, a state’s exports as as share of all U.S. exports, and a state’s largest international export markets also came from the Census Bureau. Employment figures by industry in each state came from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.