Exports bring jobs, and jobs bring economic vitality. Right now, more than 10 percent of Georgians seeking jobs can't find them.

That's the rationale behind recently intensified federal and state efforts to smooth the path overseas for U.S. firms sometimes hesitant to take the plunge into global markets.

But some of Georgia's key exports don't involve boarding an airplane or shipping goods across the world.

Brookings Institution study of metropolitan areas' exports in 2009 found that international tourism - foreign guests plunking down cash during trips to Atlanta - was the city's largest export industry, supporting hundreds of jobs with an average salary of more than $63,000 per year.

Similarly, higher education has become an increasingly important source of foreign funds for the national and state economies. 

Foreign student spending on tuition and living expenses alone contributed $20.23 billion to the U.S. economy in 2010-11, according to data released in the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors report on Nov. 14. That figure doesn't even consider "multiplier" spending on items like iPods or lattes, which would invariably widen the total.

In Georgia, 15,359 foreign students, mostly concentrated in Atlanta, Athens and Savannah, spent $429.8 million, a 12 percent increase and roughly equivalent to the state's exports to Saudi Arabia, its 19th largest export destination. Taken as a product, education would be the seventh largest export commodity, behind kaolin but in front of cotton.

Though this trend is important for the state's relationships abroad, the Georgia Department of Economic Development doesn't view education as a specific export category, said Alison Tyrer, a department spokeswoman.

Georgia's tourism division, however, has broadened its efforts to market the state to international travelers, especially from Europe, Brazil and China. Many come to visit family or conduct business, sometimes taking the opportunity to evaluate universities as well.

The U.S. Commerce Department has begun to view education as a key to achieving President Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years.

In October, Suresh Kumar, assistant secretary of commerce for trade promotion, led an education-focused trade mission to India. The country sent 103,000 students to the U.S. during the 2010-11 school year, making it the second largest source nation behind China. Indian students spent $3.2 billion on tuition and living expenses in 2009. Four of the 21 schools that participated in the mission were from Georgia.

While some might say that tuition money isn't the same as buying a product, it definitely supports universities, which drive local economies in many cases.

Separate from the NAFSA report, Emory University on Nov. 14 released the results of an independent study that showed it has a $5.1 billion impact on metro Atlanta, directly or indirectly supporting 50,000 jobs in Georgia.

Emory spent more than $2.5 billion on payroll and $780 million on construction or renovation in fiscal 2010, according to the study conducted by New York research firm Appleseed Inc.

Emory, which hosted 1,842 foreign students, and Georgia Institute of Technology, the state's leading institution with 4,943, attracted the most overseas money for tuition and expenses: $75 million and $123.6 million, respectively.

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