Atlanta’s $20 billion in exports in 2010 ranked 13th among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas with tourists from overseas the main contributor, according to the Export Nation 2012 report of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Brookings is partnering with the U.S. Commerce Department to stimulate exports as part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative. Two mainstays of U.S. exports don’t involve sending goods overseas: foreign tourists and students who bring their currency with them and spent it here.

The report, which was published in March, is generally positive about the role of exports in helping the U.S. economic recovery and zeros in on the critical role played by the nation’s metropolitan areas as the main drivers.

Metropolitan areas produced 65 percent of U.S. export sales in 2010, according to the report, which analyzed the most recently available figures.

A whirlwind of policy studies has surrounded export initiatives since the president announced in 2010 that he sought to double the country’s exports in five years.

Statewide initiatives in Florida and Washington are cited in Brookings studies for their ability to engage a wide range of organizations and businesses to cooperate to lift the states’ export numbers.

The studies praise state efforts to expend general revenue funds to support export development, to attract more foreign students to state universities and to remain connected to the financing efforts of the Small Business Administration.

Georgia ranked 12th out of the 50 states with the top export destinations being Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Brazil.

Metro Atlanta, classified as an area encompassing the city of Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Marietta, had 88,300 jobs directly related to exports, and another 151,700 jobs supported by exports – such as logistics and freight forwarders. Tourism is the top generator of service-related exports for the area.

From 2009-10, the area had a 10.8 percent growth rate in the value of its exports.

In that year, the U.S. remained the largest exporter country in the world and the No. 1 exporter of private services. Export sales from the Midwestern metro areas created the fastest growth in direct manufacturing jobs.

The report also found a shift in U.S. exports to developing countries.

One quarter of U.S. goods and service exports go to NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico. But from 2003-10, the share of U.S. exports going to Brazil, India and China increased by 5 percent. The report also found that there was a 3 percent decline in U.S. exports to the European Union.

Manufacturing industries were responsible for 61 percent of U.S. exports between 2009-10 with transportation equipment and chemicals ranked the top two manufacturing industries during that time period.

High value-added service exports, such as accounting, architectural and legal services, had uninterrupted growth during the recession and recovery, according to the report, with the U.S. in 2010 being the largest world exporter of private services.

Private service exports from the U.S. represented 14 percent of world exports of services, which is more than double the share of Germany, the second-ranking country in the category.

The report gave some suggestions for the federal government to improve exports, which included doing more to protect the intellectual property rights of American businesses around the world and repealing the JacksonVanik amendments that restrict trade with Russia.

It also suggests that the government do more to help finance small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to promote exporting. The U.S. also should have a visible, coordinated and professional presence at global trade fairs.

To see the full report, which includes a state-by-state breakdown of export figures, go here.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...