The importance of exports to Minnesota's economy was highlighted by state economic development officials and Duluth business leaders in a news conference on Friday.
With the sparkling blue waters of the Duluth harbor on Lake Superior as their backdrop, officials spoke about the nearly $21 billion in goods exported from Minnesota every year. About a quarter of those exports leave by ship, much of it from Duluth.
"Last month we moved over a quarter of a million tons of iron ore overseas," said Adolf Ojard, who directs the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. "At a hundred dollars a ton, all of a sudden we're talking some significant amounts of money that are moving to international markets."
Ojard challenged the state to invest in a multi-modal transportation hub in Duluth for container shipments throughout the upper Midwest, and eventually on ships overseas.
Manufactured goods make up about 60 percent of the state's exports. Canada is the largest market, followed by China.
Overall the growth of exports slowed, but not for some companies. Cirrus has benefited from a nearly $100 million investment from its new Chinese owner. The state legislature has passed a jobs bill that includes funding to open three new trade offices overseas, in part to attract more foreign direct investment.
"Over our history, we have exported about 25 percent of all our product. Over the last couple years that has grown to over 40 percent," said Dale Klapmeier, CEO of Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft. "Last year it was 44 percent of everything we built went overseas. It is an extremely important aspect of our growth."