County-Level Export Performance
Assessing the impact of the recent global financial crash across counties
by Steven G. Livingston | 1 | 2 | 3
In the last issue we looked at the pattern of exports across Tennessee's counties. We continue that exploration by placing county exports in the context of the county's total economic activity and then assessing the impact of the recent global financial crash across counties. The crash produced a steep decline in global exports followed by an equally steep recovery. How did this affect county-level exports in the state?
A handful of counties dominate both state production and state export figures. In 2010, five counties accounted for half of Tennessee's total production. The same five also produced half of the state's exports (though not ranked in the same order). It is interesting to note the relative "export deficit" of Davidson County, which produces four-fifths the amount of goods and services that Shelby County produces but only half of the exports. Rutherford and Anderson stand out as particularly export-focused among the state's large counties.
If we examine counties, however, not simply by their size but by their export intensity, we see a different picture. Export intensity here means the value of a county's exports as a percentage of the total value of goods and services it produces. In 25 of the state's 95 counties, 10% or more of total county production is exported. In 2010, Sequatchie County, it turns out, had a larger percentage of its production going abroad than did any other. Van Buren and Maury counties also exported more than one-fifth of their total production. None of the state's largest counties, whether measured by population, total production, or total exports also appear on the list of the most export-intensive counties. The closest would be Rutherford County (12.01%). The majority of export-intensive counties are rural counties with relatively small economies. These counties are typically dominated by several large business establishments that export substantially. Dyer County, for example, is quite export-intensive, but two plants account for nearly one-quarter of all its exports while seven plants account for about half. In next-door Obion County, two plants produce one-third of the county's exports. So the most export-intensive economies tend to be those reliant on a handful of firms for most of their production.
Mapping the state's counties by their export intensity reveals an interesting picture. West Tennessee is clearly the most export-intensive region of the state. This may surprise until we remember that many of these counties have relatively small economies. Though one might be tempted to think this might also reflect heavy agricultural exports, this is not true. Agriculture accounts for more than half of all exports in only two Tennessee counties, Hancock and Hawkins, both in east Tennessee. (By dollar value, the state's heaviest agricultural exporter is Greene County, also in the eastern part of the state.)