LANSING, MI — More Michigan companies are realizing that tapping into foreign markets can be a money maker and job creator.
Looking for a way to diversify and weather the economic downturn, the owners of Rugged Liner Inc. in Owosso hired an international sales director in 2010 to expand sales beyond the United States and Canada.
Now, the 120-employee company exports truck bed liners and other accessories to 65 countries, representing nearly a third of its revenue. The company added a new facility and hired about 35 people in response to increased international sales. This month it was named “Exporter of the Year” in Shiawassee County through the I-69 International Trade Corridor.
“International sales exports are really the next frontier for Michigan companies,” said Yannick Greiner, Rugged Liner’s international sales director.
The numbers seem to agree — Michigan was among 11 states to post double-digit export growth last year.
The Great Lakes state ranks 8th in total merchandise exports with $56.9 billion in 2012, up 12 percent from 2011, according to federal trade statistics announced Tuesday.
“We are seeing many companies from throughout the state show an interest in increasing their exports,” said Richard Corson, director of the East Michigan U.S. Export Assistance Center.
NuStep Inc. began stepping up exports in 2009 and now consistently ships specialty exercise and rehabilitation equipment to about 25 countries. Exports represent about 15 percent of NuStep’s business and is the fastest-growing segment of the company, said Elena Stegemann, the company’s international business manager.
NuStep employs about 100 people and is based in Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor. Last year it won the President’s “E” Award for exporters.
“A lot of companies started thinking about, ‘How can we diversify our portfolio?’ when the economy was going down the tubes in 2008, 2009,” she said. “I think that prompted a lot of companies, including ours, to think, ‘What can we do to give a little bit of stability?’”
The company was still profitable, but founder Dick Sarns wanted to take the company to the next step and create a better legacy, Stegemann said. She said exporting also allows the company to keep up on the latest trends that haven’t yet reached the United States.
Canada received about 44.5 percent of Michigan’s exports in 2012, followed by Mexico with 18 percent, China with 6 percent, Germany with 3.5 percent and Saudi Arabia with 3 percent.
Transportation equipment accounts for more than half of all Michigan’s export dollars at $29.2 billion, followed by $5.1 billion in machinery (except electrical), $4.4 billion in chemicals, $2.8 billion in primary metal manufacturing and $2.6 billion in computer and electronic products, according to the International Trade Administration.
The state also exports many services, such as accounting, legal, architecture, engineering and educational services, Corson said.
“American growth in the exportation of services has been impressive over many years. Our country has run a surplus in exporting of services … based on what I see, the trend certainly is growing in Michigan,” he said.
Nationally, merchandise exports grew 4 percent to $1.5 trillion. That’s up 46 percent from 2009.
President Barack Obama in 2010 called for the country to double its exports by 2015. He also called for adding two million export-supported jobs by the end of 2014. About 9.8 million jobs were supported by exports in 2012, up 1.3 million since 2009.
The total value of goods and services exported last year was $2.2 trillion.
“The increase in state exports in 2012 demonstrates that U.S. businesses are carving out a new global market share for their innovative products and services, despite facing economic headwinds worldwide,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank said in a statement.
Melissa Anders, MLive.