Exports are key to state's recovery

The state received encouraging news last week when the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that Connecticut had a record level of exports in 2013, continuing a positive trend. The report should serve as a guidepost for economic policy in the state and region.

Continuing to grow export industries should be a priority in the effort to build a more robust Connecticut economy. As a coastal state, Connecticut is positioned geographically to build its export industry.

While Connecticut faces challenges in closing an education gap between poor urban centers and its middle- and upper-class suburbs, its populace is well educated by national standards. The challenge will be assuring its students have the skills necessary to fill the type of high-tech manufacturing jobs that now drive the United States export market.

Connecticut clearly has momentum, with the contacts secured by companies that have successfully moved into the global marketplace helping build the state's reputation for providing quality goods and services.

Commerce reported Connecticut exports increased 3.1 percent in 2013 over the prior year. Connecticut exports totaled $16.5 billion, making it the only New England state to set a new export record.

Norwich-New London accounts for the fewest exports, $262 million in 2012, the most recent year for which detailed labor market data is available. By comparison, the Bridgeport labor market led the way with $10.3 billion in exports.

This means our corner of the state has the potential for significant growth. The challenge is tapping that potential. The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, which has lavished state investment in assisting businesses in southwestern Connecticut, as noted in a recent Day story on the First Five program, needs to make the southeastern section a greater economic priority.

The type of Connecticut export products that are in demand - transportation equipment, machinery, computers and electronics, for example - drive the creation of good-paying jobs.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat whose 2nd District includes most of eastern Connecticut, deserves recognition in being a leader in the drive to build an export sector in the state. Rep. Courtney has led several trade missions, including to the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, Israel and just a little more than a week ago, to Toronto, Canada.

"As a small state geographically, the need to export is critical. The good news is that the results speak for themselves. Investing in exports is a winning strategy for our businesses and our economy," Rep. Courtney said.

The trade missions have also included the U.S. Department of Commerce's Exports Assistance Center and the local district of the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration. Connecticut's District Export Council, which is privately funded by state companies working to build the export industry, funds the excursions.

The rebirth of American manufacturing - cleaner and with jobs that require higher skills and better-educated employees - is a story that does not get the attention it deserves amidst all the partisan political bickering and economic problems. Connecticut was one of 16 states to achieve record export levels last year. Overall, U.S. exports set a new record, reaching $2.3 trillion in 2013.

Connecticut must continue to strive to be a big part of that growing success story.

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