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Trade at the Local Level: 2020 Metropolitan Export Data Now Available

August 3, 2021

Ujjwall Uppuluri, Gulbin Yildirim, and Amanda Reynolds are International Economists in the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis

Figure 1 shows a map of the United States with 392 metropolitan statistical areas shown in color based on 2020 goods exports rankings measured in billions of USD. Houston, Texas was the largest metropolitan area exporter in 2020.



Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration.

Most Americans live in metropolitan areas, which consist of densely populated core regions and surrounding areas with ties to those cores. Statisticians define these as Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), and trade specialists study these localities because they can provide valuable insight into the performance of U.S. exports, industries and our economy. MSAs, after all, are critical players in the U.S. economy and trade, accounting for an average of 89 percent of U.S. exports over the last five years.

Despite global economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was still a big year for the 392 MSAs of the United States, which in total exported $1.3 trillion in goods. While exports declined $194 billion from 2019, a deeper study of the MSA data reveals pockets of resilience. In fact, almost one-quarter of reported MSAs experienced export growth, with Portland (OR) and Stockton (CA) leading the charge (with increases of $4.1 billion and $2.5 billion, respectively).

In this blog, we will walk you through MSA export highlights for 2020, including destination and sector detail.

Top Metropolitan Area Exporters

Figure 2 line graph shows the top 15 metropolitan area exporters in 2020 and their ranks in 2018 and 2019. Houston (TX), New York (NY), and Los Angeles (CA) maintained their ranks as the top three metropolitan area exporters from 2018 through 2020.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration

For 2020, the top five MSA exporters by value included Houston (TX), New York (NY), Los Angeles (CA), Chicago (IL), and Dallas (TX). International trade is not just for the major U.S. hubs, however; the top 15 exporting MSAs also include smaller areas like Corpus Christi (TX), and El Paso (TX), which benefit from their location on the U.S. border.

While the top four exporting MSAs maintained their ranks from 2019, other top MSAs experienced shifts. For example, Seattle (WA) fell in rank from the 5th to the 14thlargest MSA exporter, largely explained by a drop in transportation equipment exports. In contrast, New Orleans (LA), a U.S. agricultural products hub, bumped up three places in rank to the 6th-largest exporter. Corpus Christi (TX) and Portland (OR) also had notable increases in rank, driven by increases in oil and gas and computers and electronics, respectively.

Top Export Products

Figure 3 is a bar graph showing the top five metropolitan area exporters and their top five export products in 2020 measured in billions of USD. Chemicals and computers and electronics were among top exported goods for all give of MSAs shown.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration

MSA data also provides us with insights into products, not just places. For example, chemicals and computers and electronics were among the top exported goods for all the top five MSA exporters by value in 2020. Four of the top five MSAs also counted transportation equipment among their top exports. Looking across all MSAs, top export growth sectors included agricultural products and primary metal products, sectors which are less prevalent among the top five MSAs.

Top Export Destinations

Studying MSAs also helps us understand country-level demand for our products. 2020’s top MSA export recipients included Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In part because of their proximity to the U.S., Canada and Mexico are major markets for many metropolitan areas; one or both partners were among the top five export destinations for 45 of the 50 top metropolitan area exporters in 2020. China, the world’s most populous nation, was the top market in terms of export growth for many metropolitan areas in 2020 – New Orleans, Houston, and Portland all saw significant export increases to China, ranging from $2 to $4 billion.

Learn More

These are some of the highlights for the latest metropolitan area export data, but there is a lot more to see and learn about international trade at the local level. Be sure to visit ITA’s Metropolitan Export Series, a public database with interactive maps, data tools and factsheets showing U.S. goods exports by metropolitan area back to 2005. You will find information on top market destinations, top export sectors, exports by 3-digit ZIP code and county, and more!