The Nine U.S. Cities Selling the Most to China

September 25, 2012 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Last year, U.S. exports to China topped $100 billion for the first time. The country is now the third-largest importer of U.S. goods, behind Canada and Mexico. The total value of products being shipped to China is growing faster than any other country in the world. For many U.S. cities, China is the largest and fastest-growing importer of goods and services. In 2011, crop production, computers and electronics, chemicals and transportation equipment were the four largest exports to the country.

Read: The Nine U.S. Cities Selling the Most  to China

While not the biggest overall, China is the largest recipient of U.S. goods from 28 separate states. It is also the biggest export market of many metropolitan regions within those states. Earlier this year, the International Trade Administration (ITA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released data on total exports by metropolitan statistical area to each country. 24/7 wall St. reviewed the nine metropolitan areas that export the most to China.

As is the case nationwide, the value of goods being shipped to China is growing quickly in these metro regions. In each of these nine markets, the value of goods shipped everywhere else has grown by at least 22% between 2005 and 2011, while the value of the goods shipped to China has grown by at least 42%. In Minneapolis, one of the cities with the most exports to China, the value of goods sent to the country rose by 268%. In Detroit, exports to China grew by 482%.

The government definition of an exporter of a good leaves some room for interpretation. As a result, an exporting city includes the place where a good was manufactured from scratch, where a good was imported and assembled or simply the last point before the good left the country.

According to Marc Ross, director of communications at the U.S.-China Business Council, this leads to some port cities having a disproportionate level of exports that may have barely been manufactured in the area, if at all. This means that port cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston, all among the largest exporters to China, will have a disproportionate amount of listed export goods relative to the amount they actually manufactured or assembled.

Because this is a review of the cities that export the most to China, in dollar terms rather than as a proportion of their total exports, many of the cities on this list are simply the largest overall exporters. In New York, which shipped more than $100 billion in goods last year, just $7.4 billion, or 7.1%, were shipped to China. In Detroit, which ships the eighth most to China of any U.S. metro region, total value of those exports comes to just 4.1% of the metro’s total exports. China is only Detroit’s fourth-largest export market, behind Saudi Arabia.

Of course, these areas also have specific industries that are among America’s largest exports. In Detroit and Seattle, transportation equipment, the U.S.’s fourth-largest export to China, represents the biggest overall export. In St. Louis, chemicals — the third biggest U.S. export to China — are the most common product it ships to other countries. In San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles, computers and electronic parts are the biggest export as well as the second-largest U.S. to China export. Finally, Minneapolis’s largest export, crop production, is the biggest U.S. export to China.

24/7 Wall St. relied on 2011 Metropolitan Export Series data from the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration to identify the nine U.S. cities with the most exports, in U.S. dollars, to China. We also listed the change from 2005 exports to China and total exports, both as a total value and as a proportion of total exports. We obtained national and state export data for 2011 from the U.S.-China Business Council’s report “U.S. Exports to China by State.”

These are the nine cities selling the most to China.

9. St. Louis, Mo.-Ill.
> Exports to China: $2.0 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 15.8%
> Total exports: $12.3 billion
> Biggest export: Chemical manufacturing (19.1%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): NA

In 2005, Canada was the largest recipient of St. Louis’s exports, with more than $1.7 billion worth of goods sent from St. Louis to Canada. That year, China was not even among the top five countries that imported the most goods from St. Louis. Within six years, China has become the largest foreign recipient of St. Louis’s products, with almost $2 billion worth of the city’s goods sent to China. In Oct. 2011, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a $200 million trade agreement with the government of Zhejiang Province. The deal included $100 million in export opportunities and another $100 million in Chinese foreign direct investment into Missouri businesses.

8. Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich.
> Exports to China: $2.0 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 4.1%
> Total exports: $49.4 billion
> Biggest export: Transportation equipment (65.5%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 282%

From 2000 to 2011, Michigan’s exports to China have grown by 1,169%, while those to the rest of the world rose just 43%. The Detroit metropolitan area, which accounts for more than 70% of Michigan’s exports, has benefited somewhat from the increase in demand. While the growth percentage seems impressive, the dollar amount of exports to China still represents just 4.1% of Detroit’s $49.4 billion in total exports, which is the fourth largest among metro areas. Transportation equipment accounts for the bulk of Detroit’s exports to China at 65.5%. China’s subsidies to its own automakers — a practice that hurts the U.S. automakers like those found in Detroit — are at the center of attention as President Obama is initiating a case against China with the World Trade Organization.

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7. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
> Exports to China: $2.1 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 8.8%
> Total exports: $23.6 billion
> Biggest export: Computer and electronic products (28.1%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 86%

San Francisco was the third-largest exporter in California, after the Los Angeles and San Jose metro regions, and the 12th-largest exporter in the country. China was the third-largest foreign recipient of San Francisco’s products in 2011 at $2.1 billion worth of goods. It trailed Canada, which received $2.5 billion worth of exports, and Japan, which received $2.3 billion. The value of products sent out of the country grew 60.2% between 2005 and 2011, but exports to China have increased by 86%. More than 28% of California-made computer and electronic parts went to China in 2011. Other major products shipped overseas in 2011 include $4.1 billion worth of chemicals and $3 billion worth of petroleum and coal products.

6. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash.
> Exports to China: $2.9 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 13.9%
> Total exports: $20.88 billion
> Biggest export: Computer and electronic products (29.7%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): NA

Computers and electronics were the most exported products from the Portland region with $6.2 billion, or nearly 30 % of total exports, sent in 2011. Portland’s 2011 exports to China fell sharply from 2010, when the metro area’s shipments to the country amounted to more than $3.7 billion. The drop was attributed to Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) building a large semiconductor manufacturing plant in China, which began producing the semiconductors that the Portland plant had been shipping over. Nevertheless, exports to China from the entire state of Oregon, where Portland is by the far the largest metro area, grew 936% between 2000 and 2011, while exports to the rest of the world grew only 36% during that time. In the entire state, $1.6 billion worth of computer and electronic components were sent to China in 2011.

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis.
> Exports to China: $4.2 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 15.9%
> Total exports: $26.2 billion
> Biggest export: Crop production (28.9%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 268%

In addition to being the 10th-largest metro area by exports, Minneapolis is the fifth-largest exporter to China. Canada, being the region’s nearest neighbor, is the primary recipient of these goods, and China is second on the list. In Minnesota, exports to China grew by 835% between 2000 and 2011, while exports to the rest of the world grew just 82% over the same period. Minneapolis’s biggest exported product in 2011 was crops, with nearly $7.6 billion exported worldwide. The world’s largest food processor, Cargill Inc., is based in Minnetonka, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, computers and electronics, one of China’s biggest imports from the U.S., comprised $3.2 billion worth of Minneapolis’s exports.

4. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Tex.
> Exports to China: $5.33 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 5.1%
> Total exports: $104.5 billion
> Biggest export: Petroleum and coal products (33.7%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 123%

In August, Global Trade Magazine ranked Houston as the second-largest city in the United States in terms of export volume, behind only New York. But the ITA notes that China was only the fourth-largest export market for the metropolitan area. Mexico was the largest beneficiary of Houston’s trade, receiving 16% of the area’s total exports, followed by Canada and Brazil, at 10.4% and 6.8% respectively. Nevertheless, total exports to China have grown nearly 123% between 2005 and 2011. Petroleum and coal products are the area’s largest export, comprising nearly $35.2 billion in 2011, or 33.7% of all trade. The U.S. has slowly begun to wean itself off foreign oil in recent years and has become a net exporter of oil in 2011 for the first time in decades. No region has benefited from this boom more than Houston, as exports of petroleum and coal products in terms of dollar value have grown 405% since 2005.

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3. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.
> Exports to China: $6.0 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 14.6%
> Total exports: $41.1 billion
> Biggest export: Transportation equipment (64.6%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 42%

China was Seattle’s top export market in 2011 for the third year in a row, accounting for 14.6% of the area’s total exports. In addition, almost $2 billion in exports were sent to Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China. Transportation equipment, one of China’s biggest imports from the United States, comprised $26.2 billion of all of Seattle area’s exports. In the entire state of Washington, $4 billion in transportation equipment went to China in 2011. Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) factory in Everett, outside of Seattle, makes the 747, 767, 777 and the 787 Dreamliner airplanes, a key export of the area. Washington’s exports to China, which totaled $11.2 billion in 2011, grew 489% from 2000 to 2011, while total exports only grew 76%.

2. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.
> Exports to China: $7.44 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 7.1%
> Total exports: $105.1 billion
> Biggest export: Miscellaneous manufactured commodities (19.5%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): NA

Although Houston nearly overtook the top spot for total export thanks to the oil boom, the New York metropolitan area remained the largest exporter of goods and services. Exports from the region grew by 23.5% from just a year before to $105.1 billion. As recently as 2008, China was not even among the metro area’s top five export markets. By 2011, however, China was the third-largest recipient of exports from the New York region, behind Canada at $11.6 billion and Hong Kong at $8.4 billion. The $7.4 billion in the region’s exports to China was up from just over $6 billion in 2010 and less than $4.5 billion in 2009. The New York area ships off a variety of different products overseas. At 19.5% of total exports, “miscellaneous manufactured commodities” was the most exported item from the New York area, followed by chemicals at 16.6% and primary metals at 9.3%.

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. 
> Exports to China: $8.0 billion
> Pct. total exports to China: 11.0%
> Total exports: $72.7 billion
> Biggest export: Computer and Electronic Products (29.1%)
> Pct. increase exports to China (2005-2011): 118%

Nearly $8 billion worth of exports from the Los Angeles metro area went to China, making it the biggest exporter to the country. However, China was not the country to receive the most exports from L.A. Mexico received $17.7 billion in exports from the area, while Canada received $8.6 billion. Computers and electronics comprise the largest share of exports, with more than $21 billion worth being shipped overseas. Computers and electronics exports have grown rapidly in just the past few years. In 2010, such exports amounted to just under $18 billion, while in 2009, that figure was just below $12 billion. The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach are the busiest and second-busiest container ports in the country. In 2011, the Port of Los Angeles became the first port in the United States to ship more than 2 million containers carrying U.S. goods.

Michael B. Sauter, Samuel Weigley and Brian Zajac

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