The Times West Virginian

March 3, 2013

Exports surging

$11.3 billion in 2012 contributes to state’s growth, stability

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Each year, exports keep growing to record levels in West Virginia.

The governor’s office recently reported that the state’s exports in 2012 totaled $11.3 billion, surpassing 2011’s record performance of $9 billion.

“Exports are a valuable contributor to our state’s economic growth and stability,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a press release. “While coal continues to be our traditional strength, our top exports also included manufactured products such as plastics, chemicals, machinery and components for medical, automotive and aerospace applications.”

In 2012, the state saw a 25 percent increase in exports compared to the previous year, and also beat the 4.6 percent growth rate that the United States experienced. In fact, this is the third year in a row that West Virginia’s exports climbed to an all-time high.

“We’ve had steady growth,” said Steve Spence, director of the International Division of the West Virginia Development Office.

For many years, the state’s exports were in the range of about $2 billion, but in 2004, the number increased to $3 billion and stayed around that amount for several years, he said. Exports grew to $5.6 billion in 2008, and then dropped down to $4.8 billion in 2009 with the world recession. In 2010, exports amounted to $6.4 billion, and continued to go up to $9 billion in 2011 and $11.3 billion last year.

In 2011, there was a 39.5 percent growth in exports from West Virginia, which led the nation with the largest percentage increase. The country’s growth rate that year was 15.8 percent.

Spence said four or five other states had a higher percentage of export growth in 2012 compared to West Virginia. So while West Virginia didn’t see the largest increase this time, it was among the state’s with the highest growth.

For West Virginia to see huge gains in 2011 and again increase its exports by 25 percent in 2012 was very significant, he said.

“The huge increase is due to coal,” Spence said.

In West Virginia, coal — at $7.4 billion — was the product with the largest export sales in 2012, and that represented 49 percent of coal exports in the country. The state’s coal exports were only $5.3 billion in 2011.

Spence said the increase in coal exports in the state is tied to the world energy demand. While small businesses with non-coal exports don’t see the huge numbers that coal companies do, they are also growing in terms of exports.

After coal, plastics and machinery followed as the leading product sectors, at $1 billion and $834 million, respectively. As a whole, non-coal exports reached $3.67 billion, which was also a record, he said.

Companies in West Virginia sold their products to 136 countries last year.

The following countries were the state’s leading trading partners for coal exports: Netherlands, Italy, India, China, Brazil, South Korea, United Kingdom, Turkey, Japan and France. For non-coal exports, the top markets were: Canada, China, Japan, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Brazil, South Korea and United Kingdom.

Exports to China and Japan grew dramatically in 2012, Spence said.

“The products we produce here are products that are needed around the world,” he said. “In a smaller state like West Virginia, for a company to sell products and to continue to grow it’s necessary that they look beyond their borders. There’s great opportunities around the world and our companies are good at looking for those opportunities and finding business.”

An increase in exports can help a small company in keeping jobs and adding new positions. Spence said the International Division of the West Virginia Development Office primarily works with small and medium-sized manufacturers to help market them.

The United States only makes up 5 percent of the world’s population. Companies in West Virginia are very interested in exporting to overseas markets in order to reach out to the other 95 percent of the world that is outside of the United States, he said.

While exporting can be difficult, it’s very possible, Spence said. Companies may be worried about payments from international customers or about logistics like shipping, but the International Division can guide businesses to resources to ease those concerns.

The division has representatives that can meet with companies to help them determine what their best markets are for exporting. The entity also works closely with the U.S. Commercial Service, which has offices around the world, and sponsors trade shows and trade missions in different countries to help hook West Virginia businesses up with potential buyers overseas.

Spence said the Development Office’s International Division expects to see a continued increase in exports in the future, but it’s hard to know what type of growth the state will experience because of other factors that are involved.

For more information on the International Division of the West Virginia Development Office and its services, visit

Email Jessica Borders at or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.