A First Look
by Steven G. Livingston
For the first time since the mid-1980s, the Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division is compiling U.S. import statistics at the state level.
The reason for the long delay is the trickiness of these statistics. It's often an estimate, or a decision, as to which state ought to receive "credit" for a particular import. If a Chinese-made refrigerator enters the U.S. at Long Beach, is brought in by WalMart, and is sold at a store in Cookeville, who gets the import—California, Arkansas, or Tennessee?
Bearing that limitation in mind, what picture emerges from this first look at the state's imports in some years?
First and foremost, and this is no surprise, the state, like the nation, imports far more than it exports. In 2009, Tennessee brought in more than twice the value of goods it shipped abroad, buying more than $41 billion for the year while selling just over $20 billion. At least this performance is no worse than that of most other states. Most imports into Tennessee are intermediate goods used by state firms to produce final goods that are sold to the retail customer. For this reason, the biggest state imports are pretty familiar. Laptops are brought in by the state's computer retailer, perhaps most prominently Dell. They are the state's single biggest import. Pharmaceuticals arrive for Tennessee's healthcare industry and auto parts for Nissan, GM, and Toyota suppliers. Printers and parts, aluminum for refining, and apparels and footwear for the state's apparel assembly and retail trade round out the state's top goods coming in from abroad. The top eight imported products, in fact, account for more than half of all goods coming into Tennessee.
In some ways, the origins of these goods look familiar. Generally, the biggest sources of imports are the same countries that are the state's largest export markets. So we see featured Canada, Mexico, China, and Japan at the top of both lists. However, there are a few surprises. Ireland and Malaysia are substantial exporters to Tennessee, and the other Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) are also more significant sellers than buyers of Tennessee goods.