March 6, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Alabama Exports Surge to Record Levels -- From Dental Implants to Chicken Paws

Published : Sunday, March 04, 2012, 9:00 AM ----- Updated: Monday, March 05, 2012, 8:43 AM

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- From sugary treats and dental implants to clay-dyed T-shirts and organic cotton socks, Alabama products are making an impression around the world.

Last year, the value of state exports reached $17.9 billion, up more than 15 percent over 2010 and a record high, according to the Alabama Development Office.

While vehicles produced at the state's auto factories have long represented the lion's share of export value, other businesses are finding their niche in international markets.

And some of their products are far beyond the norm when it comes to commodities that typically show up in trade data.

One example is Irondale's Creative Concepts, which makes powder candy called Pucker Powder and dispensing machines that create a treat that's akin to do-it-yourself Pixy Stix.

The company, with distribution and sales in more than 40 countries, says exports account for to 25 percent of its business.

"We're looking for that to continue to grow this year," said Bruce Goldstein, the company's vice president. "We think we can gain possibly another 5 percent this year. There are strong possibilities in India, and our Mexican market is exploding."

The majority of the candy and related machinery and equipment is produced in Irondale, he said.

Another Birmingham area company, BioHorizons Implant Systems, ships dental implants and prosthetic parts to about 60 countries.

The implants and prosthetic parts form a base for a crown. BioHorizons also ships biologic products for oral use, including membranes and bone, around the world, said Juan Jaramillo, manager of the company's international business support department.

"Dentists around the world are using more implants nowadays instead of just bridges and crowns," he said, noting the greater stability of implants, which also minimize bone loss around the gum line.

About 20 percent of the company's products are made locally, and most of the rest is produced in the U.S., he said.

Other Alabama exports include playground equipment, exercise weights, fire extinguishers and weather radar equipment.

State companies also ship frozen chicken paws, better known as chicken feet, around the world, and Alabama ranks No.ยค1 in the nation for the export of live chickens. Most live chickens go to China, followed by Mexico and Indonesia.

Birmingham's Earth Creations exports its clay-dyed T-shirts and Zkano exports organic cotton socks that are manufactured in Fort Payne.

The year-over-year growth in last year's exports was seen in a number of categories.

For instance, sugars and sugar confectionery -- the category that includes Pucker Powder by Creative Concepts -- totaled $38.1 million, a 397 percent jump over 2010.

The category of arms and ammunition increased 275 percent to $240.6 million. The state's top two products are bombs/grenades and military weapons, with most going to the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, followed by Australia and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, vehicles continued to dominate, as the value of Alabama-built auto exports topped $5.4 billion last year, up 14 percent from 2010.

The global auto industry sales slump hurt this category, along with overall export value, in 2009. But exports began rising again in 2010 as the industry recovered, and that rebound continued last year.

The vast majority of the state's auto exports are Mercedes-Benz luxury SUVs and crossovers produced at the German automaker's Vance factory, which exports about 60 percent of its output.

The state's other two automakers, Honda and Hyundai, also export their state-made vehicles, but in much smaller numbers.

Rounding out Alabama's top five exports last year, by dollar value, were coal, industrial machinery, plastics and organic chemicals. All of these categories showed double-digit percentage growth from 2010 to 2011.

Alabama's top export markets were Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Japan.

"The world is coming out of the recession and consumers are buying -- particularly those in developing markets," said Hilda Lockhart, director of the Alabama Development Office's International Trade Division. "The middle class is growing and they are wanting high quality products."

In addition, signings of free trade agreements mean likely new growth in South Korea and Colombia, she said.

"Those are good markets for us and as the agreements are implemented, we should see more exports heading that way," she said.

Lockhart said the state is still focused on helping small- to medium-sized companies find export markets. Help includes seminars, overseas contacts and trade missions to various countries.

"We have a lot of potential, but we just need to help them think outside the box," she said.


David K. Bowsher, partner in charge of the Birmingham office of law firm Adams and Reese LLP, said Alabama workers are making products that compete well on the international stage.

"It's really neat to be in Egypt and see people driving an M-Class Mercedes that was made in Vance, Alabama," he said.

Bowsher previously served in President George W. Bush's administration as deputy and acting general counsel at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"We're so programmed to think of exports and global trade as picking up some cheap piece of plastic and seeing 'Made in China,' but it's also seeing a GL-Class in Beijing, it's also seeing an M-Class in Cairo," he said. "Frankly, I'll take that trade any day if we can be the ones producing the high-end complex products that require knowledge and technology and innovation to craft."

As for growth areas in exports, Bowsher said he sees a lot of potential in the services and knowledge coming out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other area research institutions.

"We've got an incredible amount of research going on, and there are some pretty phenomenal products and breakthroughs being developed," he said. "I think that's going to be the next wave: knowledge exports."

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