4th Quarter 2008

(Click on graph for larger view.)

2007 Tennessee exports by region

exports per person in $ value

exports as % of economic activity

export growth rate 2005-7

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State Exports By Region

A Comparison of Exporting Statistics by Tennessee MSA

by Steven G. Livingston

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Tennessee's exports have grown substantially over the past few years, but where do they come from? Do those exports come from all parts of the state, or are they concentrated in certain regions? We can examine this question by looking at the size and composition of the foreign sales that come from each of Tennessee's MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas). An MSA is composed of a major urban area: the central city and the counties that are economically connected to it. Tennessee has 10 MSAs.1 How are the state's exports spread among these MSAs?

To begin, most Tennessee MSAs export more, absolutely and relatively, than they did 10 years ago. All the state's MSAs have risen in the export rankings of American MSAs over that period, with the single exception of Johnson City. And this is a statistical illusion because the Tri-Cities region of East Tennessee was separated into two MSAs in the interim.

Exports of Tennessee MSAs

2007 Exports
U.S. MSA Rank
1998 Rank

Johnson City

a = not defined as MSA in 1998. 1998 figure taken from exporter location series no longer collected.

We can see that four MSAs, led by Memphis and Nashville, lead the pack. The pie chart shows these four along with the fifth-largest exporting MSA, Chattanooga. (The figures from the MSAs that cross state lines are adjusted to report only the Tennessee portions of their exports.2) We also see that exports from rural Tennessee are not insignificant. Almost a fifth of the state's exports are from rural areas, almost equaling the size of exports from Nashville. Of course, the absolute size of the value of exports reflects the size of the MSA itself. To examine the relative export strength of each Tennessee MSA, we can look at either exports per person or exports as a percentage of the total economic activity of that region. Here we see a bit more equality. The big exception is Kingsport, which is by far the most export-intensive region of Tennessee. This reflects the activity of Eastman Chemical, historically the state's largest single exporting company. Exports equal more than a quarter of the total economic activity in the Kingsport area! Memphis is the only other area for which exports equal more than a 10th of the region's economic production. If ranked by population, Nashville, Knoxville, and Morristown close the gap a bit, but Kingsport and Memphis are still far in the lead. Memphis exports almost twice as much per person as does Nashville. Two of the less export-intensive regions, Cleveland and Chattanooga, are likely to see significant increases in coming years due to recently announced large German investments. Clarksville and Johnson City are the least focused on international sales. In the case of Clarksville, this is presumably because of the economic importance of Fort Campbell, which obviously does not export.

If we look at export growth, the picture changes a bit. The smallest exporting MSA, Johnson City, is, however, the fastest growing. It joins Knoxville and Chattanooga in posting a better than one-third increase in exports over the 2005-7 period. Six MSAs exceeded the state's export growth rate. Jackson, unfortunately, went in the other direction. Thanks to the loss of significant paper exports, its sales overseas dropped by nearly half over this period. »

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1. Some MSAs cross state boundaries. This is the case for four Tennessee MSAs: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Kingsport, and Memphis. (back)

2. This was accomplished by estimating exports using the percentage of the MSA's total employment that is located in Tennessee's portion of the MSA. (back)