Made in Minnesota: Which nations spend the most on the stuff we make?

I’ve been driving to all corners of Minnesota as part of our Rural Minnesota: Generation at a crossroads series. Trucks, trains, warehouses and factories are as much a part of the outstate landscape as farmhouses and fields. It’s impossible not to wonder at the precise scale of it all. One piece of the puzzle is exports — estimates put Minnesota’s 2010 exports from manufacturing, service and agricultural industries at $31 billion.

A little more than half of that came from manufactured goods. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has released 2010 export statistics for manufactured goods. In this post I’ll be taking the wide-angle view on exports and manufacturing. The dollar value is just one indicator — and low hanging fruit at that. Labor practices, environmental standards, business practices also cast a shadow on the state. I’ll look at these pieces of the puzzle, too, but let’s start by getting a sense of scale.

Currency exchange: Top 10 countries doing business with Minnesota
I’ve plotted the big spenders on an interactive map of Minnesota exports, including a breakdown of how the money was spent, which industries are big with which countries, and which are losing ground.

Here’s the short of it: Canada tops the list, followed by China, Japan, Mexico, Germany, South Korea, United Kingdom, Belgium, Singapore and the Philippines.

In past years, Ireland has been high in the top 10. In 2010 it slipped to 13. Ireland was spending lots of money on Minnesota-made medical devices. Sales of medical devices have fallen for Minnesota companies; including a big drop in the export of orthopedic and other artificial body parts (down $392 million to $686 million).

What are we shipping overseas?
Just about anything, it seems: Computers and electronics ($4 billion), Transportation equipment ($2 billion), Chemicals ($1 billion), Paper ($700 million), even leather products ($140 million).

Here are the top five export industries:


Industry Exports % change from ’09
Computers/electronics $4 billion 18%
Machinery $3 billion 23%
Transportation equiptment $2 billion 29%
Misc. goods (incl. medical) $1.7 billion -14%
Food $1.3 billion 8%


Industries moving up the charts include semiconductors (up 40 percent from 2009 to $1.1 billion), aerospace parts (up 69 percent to $497 million), and commercial and service industry machinery (up 51 percent to $449 million).

What about agriculture and service industry exports? The agriculture numbers aren’t out yet; I’ll map them when they are. According to DEED, there is no comprehensive data available for service industry exports, but the agency estimated the 2009 value at $9.8 billion. Want to go deeper into this data? Here’s the DEED report (PDF). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a semiconductor business to plan.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Dave Thompson on 05/19/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    Wow, interesting stuff! I never thought I’d be interested in reading a DEED report. I wonder why we are only 20th among states in total exports?

  2. Submitted by skip wyland on 05/19/2011 - 01:01 pm.

    Very informative and easy to read article. Take it a step further and compare the exports to where the politicians take all those junketts on the tax dollar in the name of business expansion. I remember Gov. Paw taking all those people to Israel shortly before leaving office.
    Thank you.

  3. Submitted by Adam Minter on 05/19/2011 - 06:18 pm.

    Skip – It’s a common misconception that the state picks up the tab for the governor’s trade missions. In fact, the state only picks up the tab for the governor, his staff, and security. All other parties who accompany him – including other politicians, as you characterize them – pay their own way. As to whether or not the trade missions are measurable successes, I will point you to the fact that Pawlenty visited China three times – more than any other country – and that China has been Minnesota’s fastest growing export destination for more than a decade. His last trade mission to China was focused on agriculture, and it is worth noting that China is the leading destination for several major ag commodities. Would that trade be happening without those missions? Some of it would, yes. But it is unquestionably the case that additional trade was initiated and facilitated as a direct result of Pawlenty’s missions.

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