Georgia marked another year of record exports in 2012, sending $35.8 billion worth of goods abroad, an increase of $1.1 billion or 3.3 percent, the state announced Feb. 18.

That was much slower than the previous year, when the state saw the value of exported goods jump by 20 percent. Also, Georgia's 2012 increase trailed the national growth rate of 4.46 percent. 

Still, Georgia was the No. 12 state in the nation ranked for the value of its exports, which has climbed 51 percent 2009.

Trade is good for job creation, especially for the small firms that have learned to navigate overseas markets, said Kathe Falls, director of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's trade division. 

"Exporting creates twice as many jobs as domestic trade. For every job created in making the product, another job is created in getting the product to market,” Ms. Falls said in a news release. “It’s not just for the ‘big guys.' In Georgia, 50 percent of the companies helped by (the economic development department) have 30 employees or less.”

The top destinations for Georgia's exports remained Canada, China, Mexico, Singapore and Japan, in that order, which accounted for 42 percent of the total combined. Singapore's prevalence could reflect greater trade than is obvious with Southeast Asia, since the small island nation is a logistics hub where goods are consolidated and sent out around the region. 

The trade data also hinted at bright spots for manufacturing in Georgia and around the region. Overall, non-electric machinery exports grew by 13 percent to $5 billion. Exports to Australia and Mexico, which buy quite a bit of machinery, vehicles and auto parts from Georgia, were up 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Exports to the United Kingdom, a key aerospace customer, grew by 15 percent. 

The story continued on the import side, perhaps revealing the Southeast's growing prevalence as an automotive manufacturing hub. Georgia imported $5.7 billion in vehicles and auto parts from Germany alone, helping make it the top state by value of imports from the European country at $12 billion. Much of this is likely explained by the fact that Mercedes-Benz has a terminal at the Port of Brunswick to bring in finished cars. 

While vehicles were among Georgia's top export sectors, Georgia led the nation in industries where it has traditionally been a dominant player, including meat and edible offal of poultry, a variety of pulp and paper categories, cotton, carpet, kaolin and peanuts.

Other hints in the data: 

Exports of wood products to the United Kingdom grew more than 10-fold, indicating that Georgia could be better realizing its potential as a supplier of biomass feedstocks. The U.K. is a key buyer of wood pellets for cleaner electricity generation. European companies have invested in plants in southern Georgia to produce pellets to be shipped back to the continent out of the Brunswick port, which has been expanded for that purpose

A nationwide drought was good for Georgia's meat industry exports. Exports in the sector grew by 21 percent in 2012, an increase of more than $220 million. Perhaps that was because as grain costs got higher, meat producers had to cull their stocks. With more meat flooding the domestic market, prices dropped, making American meat more competitive abroad. Read more: Five reasons Georgia food exports are skyrocketing

Editor’s note: Debate has raged in the House in recent weeks over whether to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which expires Sept. 30. The main hang-up is the bank’s support for multinationals, which many critics say amounts to corporate welfare. Here, the bank’s small business chief aims to show how even large deals help small companies, as well as how Georgia small businesses would be affected by an Ex-Im closure. Global Atlanta will later run a commentary with an opposing viewpoint.  More
Five years ago, exports accounted for about 90 percent of solar cell and panel manufacturer Suniva Inc.’s sales, while only 10 percent came from the U.S. Now, that proportion has flipped as an increasing appetite for solar energy and an evolving regulatory landscape have made the U.S. one of the top three markets for the industry globally. More