Wyoming exports spike despite problem with ports

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Despite some roadblocks preventing the state’s most abundant commodities from being sold across borders and overseas, international trade is on the rise in Wyoming.

The state’s exports jumped 17 percent from $1.2 billion in 2011 to $1.4 billion in 2012, according to the U.S. International Trade Association.

The $200 million increase ranks Wyoming seventh out of 11 states that saw double-digit growth in the one-year time period.

The numbers highlight Wyoming’s role as a premier distributor of trona and mining machinery around the world.

Wyoming has the world’s largest deposit of trona with Turkey a distant second, said Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland.

It is processed for its soda ash, which is an ingredient in glass, cleaning products and food additives.

Trona helped give Wyoming more than $900 million worth of chemical exports in 2012.

“It’s always the leader,” said Bob Jensen, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.

Pint-sized seller

But nationally the state still ranks at the bottom of the barrel for total exported goods. Despite its large gains, Wyoming is 49th in the nation for exported goods, according to a report by Business Roundtable, a pro-business consortium of CEOs that pays to conduct economic studies.

The report also said that Wyoming’s export industry creates 63,000 jobs annually, a low total compared to Montana’s $2.4 billion in exports and 134,000 jobs and Colorado’s $8.8 billion in exports and 680,000 jobs.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story for Wyoming, said Anne Alexander, an economist and the director of international programs at the University of Wyoming. As is the case with many statistical comparisons between Wyoming and the rest of the nation, the state’s small population provides a disadvantage when looking at data. There are less people and fewer businesses in Wyoming’s than its neighbors, Alexander said.

“A lot of it comes down to the fact that when you look at the rankings, they are in raw numbers,” she said. “Wyoming tends to fall at the bottom any time were looking at raw numbers. We’re going to be low no matter what simply because we are small.”

Wyoming’s relationships with Mexico and Australia highlight the state’s progression in international markets.

Australia was a big buyer for Wyoming products during the past decade. Wyoming did $5.7 million worth of business with the country in 2002. It jumped to $136.7 million by 2012.

Wyoming shipped $140.7 million worth of goods to Canada in 2012. In the past decade that total's grown to $330 million.

New markets

The uptick in international growth is making its mark in Casper. Companies in town making machinery for mining and parts for oil rigs are seeing the benefits of global demand.

High Country Fabrication, a company that makes specialized parts for refineries, has expanded its customer base from U.S. and Canadian companies to Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, said Jim Jackson, sales manager for the company.

“Over the past 10 years we’ve grown every year,” he said. “And we will continue to grow.”

Westech Inc. in Casper manufactures truck bodies for the mining industry. The company has seen exports as a share of its business jump from 10 percent to 30 percent during the past decade.

The company ships to Canada, Mexico, India and South Africa and is targeting Ukraine and other Eastern Europe states as new hot spots in its marketplace.

“If you name it, we’re doing it,” said Rich Peters, Westech sales manager.

Before the surge in Wyoming’s export growth, Westech laid out a plan to cultivate outside markets to help find balance in the often unstable mining industry.

“Unfortunately the mining industry has its high peaks and low valleys,” Peters said.

The plan has proven valuable because in the past few years, the South African market has softened but Eastern Europe is growing, he said.

“It’s all about looking to balance the good times and bad times with other parts of the world,” he said.

Building ties

Gov. Matt Mead and prior administrations in the past 15 years have focused on harvesting new relationships across borders and overseas.

Mead received a $250,000 appropriation from the state Legislature in this year’s budget to travel to other countries to help foster trade agreements for Wyoming and provide lawmakers with an analysis of the climate for trade in the international marketplace.

“It is timely for the governor and Legislature to be interested in what we can do to enhance our foreign trade efforts in Wyoming -- largely because of changing economies and energy pictures and the continuous increasing global economy,” Jensen said. “All of that bodes well for Wyoming.”

With regulatory hurdles and left-leaning states on the Pacific Coast opposed to supplying the Cowboy State with easy access to Asia’s energy demand, Mead and others are trying to figure out ways to transport Wyoming coal and other products to Asia. Wyoming saw a 1,588 percent jump in its relations with China in the first half of this year. But many think that the business relationship could be better.

"If those states were able to see the benefits of Wyoming's high-quality coal going to Asia it would help the national economy and the Wyoming economy while giving countries coal that burns with less emissions," Jensen said. "That’s the biggest hurdle."

Mead went to China in 2012 to speak at the Advanced Coal Technologies Conference and will head to South Korea and Taiwan this October for a similar trip.

The U.S. has free trade agreements with 20 countries and works with fellow members in the World Trade Organization to foster import and export deals. Of the countries with free trade agreements, Wyoming works with Chile, Canada and Mexico to ensure less tariffs and other regulations on the goods shipped between the countries. Mead was in Canada in June to meet with Canadian businesses about rail, coal and natural gas.

South Korea entered into a free trade deal with the U.S. in 2012, and Mead is headed there to discuss the new arrangement, said Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead in an email to the Star-Tribune.

“(Mead) is also keeping an eye on potential agreements between Pacific nations and the U.S. as well as with the Euro Zone,” MacKay wrote. “His efforts have been directed to countries with known potential for trade with Wyoming. The Governor is working to identify those additional foreign countries with the most potential for trade with Wyoming. This analysis should be done in the coming months and it will provide further focus for Wyoming’s efforts to increase trade.”