Montana's economy is fueled by the dynamic interplay of many sectors that are dependent on one another in order to be successful. One area of our economy that involves several industries and has been a bright spot for our state is exporting. In 2010 alone, Montana exported $1.96 billion in goods to other countries, making last year our second most successful year ever for exports. Only 2008 was a better year for Montana in this important category.
In order for our state’s export-dependent industries to continue to grow, it is important to recognize that our largest trading partner — by a factor of almost three — is Canada. Last year we shipped nearly $540 million in Montana-made goods to our northern neighbors. This figure is more than our state’s exports to Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan combined. Our economic relationship with Canada cannot be overstated. Exports to Canada are a big deal to companies in our state and the source of job growth and stability for countless Montana residents.
Continuing this export success to Canada should be a top priority for our policymakers at the state and federal level. Also, helping the Obama administration to reach its goal of a 50 percent increase in exports from the United States by 2015 will create good-paying jobs, increase the profitability of private industry and help turn around our nation’s trade deficit, estimated to be more than $48 billion.
One area that the public sector can engage in to assist our state and nation increase our exports, particularly to Canada, is to assure that the infrastructure our country has built that supports international trade is maintained and enhanced. To that end, it is important to recognize the significant investment the federal government is making to enhance the international border crossing facility at the Port of Wild Horse, located north of Havre.
Not only are federal funds being wisely invested in an upgrade to a facility that was constructed decades ago, but the Department of Homeland Security has also commenced with a study of traffic through the Port of Wild Horse to determine the need for expanding the hours of operation at this port of entry to better accommodate commercial vehicles exporting goods to Canada.
With the explosive economic growth occurring in the Province of Alberta, a 24-hour commercial port of entry with Canada at the Port of Wild Horse is warranted and will provide an additional trade corridor for U. S. exports. Depending on final destination, the Port of Wild Horse in northern Montana may very well be the best, most direct and least expensive route for U. S. manufacturers and others to utilize to export their products to Canada.
The international export market is big business for Montana and the United States. As we work our way out of the great recession and back to economic health, wise investments by the federal government in our export infrastructure at our ports of entry with Canada will allow our business sector to add jobs and expand. This is good news for all of us.
Paul Tuss is executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., a multi-county Economic Development District in northern Montana, located in Havre.