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The Import of Louisiana Exports 

A new federal focus on exports could help Louisiana find markets for local goods

In his first State of the Union address Jan. 27, President Barack Obama vowed to double U.S. exports by 2015. That could mean big business to Louisiana. While you rarely hear elected officials and economic development enthusiasts talk about exports from the Bayou State, there was a success story in this sector two years ago that's worth retelling.

  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisiana's exports in 2008 totaled nearly $42 billion. It was an impressive number by itself, but it shone brighter when compared to the 2007 tally of $30 billion — a 38 percent spike that buoyed the state's economy the entire year.

  At that time, a falling dollar was on Louisiana's side. Preliminary export data for 2009 suggest the state may have seen a dip that could offset the increase enjoyed in 2008. 

  Clearly, the export market for Louisiana is changing.

  So, how does Obama plan to turn the tide and help businesses adapt? Here are his own words from last week: "We're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports and reform export controls consistent with national security."

  That may be music to the ears of small business owners, which drive Louisiana's export industry. On paper, it's just a promise — for now. Even The New York Times reported the next morning that the plan was rolled out with "few details."

  The Senate has seen some action on the idea, however, and the dean of Louisiana's delegation is firmly embedded. Two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, introduced the Small Business Export Enhancement and International Trade Act.

  The proposed legislation, which Landrieu's committee already has adopted, would improve access to loans and counseling programs for small exporters. The framework for the plan was created last summer in New Orleans during a field hearing with Landrieu's committee and officials from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

  Landrieu says that field hearing, in addition to new findings from the U.S. International Trade Commission, convinced her that small exporters are getting hit way too hard by unfair costs and regulations and that the federal programs meant to help them are not working adequately. "Improving these programs is especially important now, as small businesses find their domestic marketplace increasingly tapped out because of the recession," Landrieu says.

  Along with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Landrieu also has requested that the Government Accountability Office investigate the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee to further ensure that federal exporting resources are supporting the needs of small businesses.

  With a little help from the feds, there's no telling how successful local exporters can be. The Louisiana District Export Council, an advocacy group, reports that big deals are happening practically every week. Express Oilfield Supply in New Orleans, a manufacturer and reseller of pump systems, just opened a new market in Mexico and has hired a representative to work the region.

  Reliable Industries of Metairie, which services marine and construction companies, has only 35 employees but serves 1,100 customers in more than 40 countries every year. It has gotten attention lately for its innovative ways of mitigating risk and securing business in places like Russia and Africa.

  Louisiana exports may have suffered in 2009, but the state is still ranked eighth overall in outgoing products and goods. Additionally, companies like Express Oilfield Supply and Reliable Industries prove Louisiana has the kind of corporate strength to pursue a new economy overseas.

  With the right kind of plan, Louisiana could be better known someday for exporting goods rather than residents.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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