Exporting businesses add 90,672 jobs in Tennessee, Georgia in past 5 years

A ship-to-shore crane unloads a shipping container at the Georgia Ports Authority Garden City terminal Jan. 27, 2014, in Savannah, Ga.

Fillaeur Cos. Inc. is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with an expansion of the production facility where the orthotic and prosthetic maker has operated from for the past century.

But while Fillaeur has maintained its headquarters in Chattanooga for the past century, the medical equipment maker is increasingly looking overseas to grow its business.

"We've hired a new export manager this year and we're going to more trade shows and events around the world to grow our international sales," said Traci B. Dralle, director of marketing at Fillauer Companies, Inc. "We're eager to tap into the bigger global market."

By the numbers

* Georgia, 209,071 jobs supported by exports, up 36.3 percent since 2009 * Tennessee, 158,913 jobs supported by exports, up 28.1 percent since 2009 * United States, 7.1 million jobs supported by exports, up 9.3 percent since 2009 Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

Even with a stronger dollar, Fillauer and other exporting businesses continue to look for sales outside of the United States where 96 percent of the world resides.

That global focus helped boost the number of export-related jobs in Tennessee and Georgia by 90,672 jobs over the past five years, according to a new government study.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates in 2014 that 209,071 jobs in Georgia and 158,913 jobs in Tennessee were driven by exports. Among the 50 states, Georgia ranked 9th and Tennessee ranked 15th in the numer of export-related jobs.

Nationwide, the government estimates that 11.1 million American jobs flow from U.S. exports, or 1 million more than in 2009.

Medical equipment makers like Fillauer are the biggest exporters in Tennessee, but more than 7,000 other businesses in the state also export at least some goods or services outside of the United States. That number is up from just over 4,000 such businesses eight years ago.

"We're doing better than ever with our exports, with two record years in a row for export sales, and so far the strong U.S. dollar doesn't seem to be slowing down export activity," said Robert Leach, director of the Knoxville export assistance center. "Commodity prices are down so there is a trade off. You have to purchase some goods to export goods and those tend to be cheaper right now."

Key merchandise export categories for Tennessee in 2014 included transportation equipment; computer and electronic products; chemicals; machinery manufactures; and electrical equipment. Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and Belgium were the leading destinations for Tennessee goods exports the same year.

Dr. Steve Livingston, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University who studies global trade as editor of Global Commerce magazine, said Tennessee's growing automotive industry, which now employs one of every three manufacturing workers, is helping to grow Tennessee exports even though the biggest car makers were imported into the U.S. from Japan and Germany.

Nissan and Volkswagen may be foreign-based companies shipping many of their products to their respective assembly plants in Smyrna and Chattanooga, Tenn., primarily for sales in the United States.

"But after those cars are assembled, many are exported across the Americas and around the world," Livingston said. "The biggest auto export markets are places like Canada and the Middle East where the U.S. dollar hasn't changes as much."

Livingston expects exports and export-related jobs will continue to grow this year.

"A lot of public attention gets focused on the job losses that occur when a factory shuts down in Tennessee and moves offshore, but there are also many jobs that exports and world trade are creating at the same time in Tennessee as these new numbers show," he said.

At Fillauer, Dralle said the company began aggressively growing its export business in the early 1990s and, among other acquisitions, bought a Swedish company in 2000.

"We've expanded our export sales significantly to China, Europe and the Middle East and we continue to see tremendous opportunities around the globe," she said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.