The report ranked Augusta-Richmond County in the top 40 out of 150 major metro areas studied. In 2010, the area exported $1.1 billion in merchandise value, and that figure is expected to climb to as much as $1.9 billion by 2020.
The main catalyst for that growth is chemical exports, the mayor’s group reported. That’s the area’s largest export category and one that is expected to expand by 80 percent between 2010 and 2020.
“These numbers don’t surprise me a bit,” said Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County. “We are well-positioned for exports and we have been for a good number of years.”
Sprouse and his staff work to attract and keep chemical export companies such as DSM, FinnChem, Potash Corp. and Rockwood Color Pigment and Services. Sprouse said that DSM, PotashCorp and other companies have expanded or plan to expand soon.
Sprouse said Augusta is able to attract chemical export companies because of its proximity to the Savannah port and established infrastructure, but the report estimated Savannah’s exports to have a growth potential of only 67.3 percent over the next decade.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said most Augustans might not realize how substantial the city’s chemical manufacturing and exporting sector is.
“What we call ‘manufacturing row’ sits out of sight for most people, but those jobs are important to our area,” he said.
Copenhaver said more manufacturing jobs are coming back to the U.S. from countries such as India and China, and if those trends continue there is every reason to expect exporting to grow in the next decade.
“It’s a lofty goal, but I’m a big believer in lofty goals,” he said.
Chemical exports are expected to expand by 80 percent nationally by 2020, according to report co-author Karl Kuykendall, an economist for IHS.
He said the U.S. has a comparative advantage in building advanced facilities and infrastructure for chemicals export, while at the same time international demand for chemical exports such as pharmaceuticals, plastics and fertilizer is steadily increasing.
“The chemicals industry is growing across the board,” he said.