Where Are Tennessee Exporters Located?
The raw count by county is rather predictable, but there are a few surprises.
The latest government figures identify 6,463 Tennessee enterprises as exporters. This is about 1.5% of all the private for-profit business establishments in the state. (It is also 2.3% of all American exporters.) Most of these firms export only periodically and in small values. The more significant exporters are manufacturing firms, distributors, or agricultural brokers. In 2010, 1,832 Tennessee manufacturing establishments exported, just over 20% of all of the state's manufacturing plants. They were joined by 1,239 wholesalers and distributors. The economic importance of these establishments becomes clearer if we focus on employment. The one-fifth of manufacturing plants that export account for 44% of the manufacturing employment in this state. More than 182,000 manufacturing jobs are in firms that export. In 2010, the average Tennessee exporting firm produced and shipped goods valued at $13.481 million, a substantial portion of its total output and sales.
Where are these exporters located? Are they concentrated in particular regions of the state, or are they found throughout Tennessee? As might be expected, most exporters are located in the state's major metropolitan areas. The raw count of exporters by county is rather predictable, with the most populous counties having the most exporters. However, even here there are a few surprises, such as the overachieving Hamilton County, which vies with much bigger Shelby for the most exporting establishments. The findings are similar if one examines the percentage of the workforce that is in the export sector. Here Rutherford and Sullivan counties punch above their weight, but the pattern of "the larger the county, the larger the export sector" still holds.
More interesting is adjusting for the size of a county's population and its manufacturing sector. Thirty-nine counties exceed the state average for export intensity, measured as the percentage of manufacturing establishments that export. Fifty-six counties fall below that average. Four counties have no exporters at all. Even when adjusting for the size of the county's population, we see that firms in urban counties remain more likely to export. The counties in the state's largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville) are more export intensive than the rural counties or those in smaller MSAs. A second interesting pattern is geographical. Manufacturers in counties in west Tennessee are generally less likely to export than those in middle or east Tennessee. Only three western counties (Hardeman, Haywood, and Perry) exceed the state average for the percentage of manufacturers that export.