Energy pushes Houston to nation’s top exporter

Tankers in the Houston Ship Channel, Tuesday June 18, 2013. The  Texas General Land Office is held  an oil spill prevention and response program media day at their La Porte Office. (Billy Smith II/Houston Chronicle)

Tankers in the Houston Ship Channel. (Billy Smith II/Houston Chronicle)

The Houston metropolitan area has become the nation’s top exporter for the first time in history, pushed by growing shipments of petroleum products, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report released this week.

About $110.3 billion in merchandise shipped from the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area in 2012, a nearly 6 percent jump from the year before. The metropolitan area surpassed New York City’s export value of $102 billion to grab the title of top U.S. exporter.

Petroleum and coal products were the largest group of exports from the Houston area, totaling $36.6 billion in value. Another $31.2 billion worth of chemicals left the region, according to the federal agency.

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Other major exports  from the Houston area included non-electrical machinery ($15.2 billion) and computer and electronic products ($6.7 billion).

Our North American neighbors were the top importers for Houston area shipments, with $17.2 billion going to Mexico and $11.4 billion going to Canada. The next-biggest destinations were Brazil, which received $6.6 billion in Houston area exports, and China, which received $5.2 billion.

Other Texas cities ranked among the nation’s 50 largest exporters. Exports from the San Antonio-New Braunfels area soared 33 percent compared to 2011, hitting $14 billion and ranking 25th in the country. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area exported $27.8 billion in merchandise, ranking eighth in the United States.

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Nationwide, more than $1 trillion in merchandise shipped around the world from Houston, New York City and the 48 other largest export regions in the U.S.  That was a nearly $43 billion jump from the year before.

Of the 50 largest export metropolitan areas, 29 reached record highs in 2012, the Commerce Department said.

“Exports from America’s metropolitan areas have increased for three consecutive years, and continue to set new records city by city,” said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. “We know that businesses that successfully sell their goods and services abroad help support local economies and increase our manufacturing base here at home.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama initiated an effort to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. Exports from metropolitan areas have grown about 40 percent since then, according to the Commerce Department.