The Census Bureau has released new data on the profile of U.S. exporters. Business data has its lags, and these latest data are preliminary estimates for 2012. What they reveal is the critical importance of small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs), companies with fewer than 500 employees, in U.S. exports. SMEs make up 98 percent of U.S. exporters and record 35 percent of U.S. exports. We at TradeUp wanted to offer a distilled review of these trends (below); for more insight, read our updated White Paper.
SMEs: 98% of U.S. exporters and record 35% of U.S. exports
SMEs are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and make up 98 percent of the 304,867 U.S. exporters (figure 1). Just like in other economies, overall U.S. trade is still driven by large companies and multinationals, but SMEs have in the past few years gained ground and now make up over a third of U.S. exports (figure 2).
Overall, U.S. SMEs are still focused on serving the domestic market only: merely 5 percent of the 6 million employment-providing SMEs export (and only about 1 percent of all 29 million SMEs). However, there is variation across sectors: for example, almost 40 percent of computer and electronic product manufacturers and of electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers export.
SME exporters make up the majority of the number of exporters, and also a rather substantial share of the highly diversified exporters. SMEs make up 44 percent of the 6,692 companies exporting to 50 or more markets (figure 5). The rest, or 66 percent, of these companies exporting to 50 markets or more are large companies (companies with over 500 employees). This is hardly surprising, given that company size correlates with export diversification. SMEs make up nearly 60 percent of U.S. firms exporting to 25-49 countries.
Larger companies also play a more pronounced role in the export value (figure 6). Notably, though, SME exporters make up the bulk of exports generated by exporters that ship to 1-49 countries. It is the U.S. multinationals that ship to over 50 countries that dominate the aggregate export data.
SMEs’ export destinations reflect overall U.S. trade patterns, with Canada, Mexico, and China as the leading markets by export volume. Most SME exporters are also focused on these markets, as well as on UK, Germany and Australia (figure 7). Regionally, most SME exporters are in California, Florida, New York, and Texas (figure 8, appendix table I). These states also make up the bulk of the value of U.S. SME exports.
We at TradeUp are working with SMEs across the U.S., to keep their ranks and exports growing, and help U.S. businesses to realize their full potential in international markets. We also believe these companies have the greatest shot at growing into large businesses, creating jobs, and boosting America's economic growth and competitiveness.