A strong chemical industry and strengthening national economy helped several Louisiana metro areas score major increases in exports in 2011, according to the latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department.
New Orleans, the only Louisiana metro area in the top 25, saw exports rise 46 percent, the most of any metro area in the top-tier group. Baton Rouge saw exports increase 29 percent, and Lake Charles and Lafayette rose 71 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
Economist Loren Scott said the numbers reflect the upswing in the chemical industry, fueled by low natural gas prices. The United States, and by extension Louisiana, has been grabbing market share from Europe, which is hampered by environmental regulations and the fact that it mostly uses oil, not natural gas, to make ethylene.
“Low natural gas prices are driving the price down here and natural gas is a huge component of the process in the chemical industry,” he said.
Louisiana, he said, is a major producer of plastics for consumer products in the United States “and you can expect it to show up in our export numbers.”
New Orleans had $20.34 billion in exports in 2011, compared with $13.96 billion in 2010.
Baton Rouge had $4.86 billion in exports, compared with $3.78 billion.
Lake Charles had $4.20 billion, compared with $2.50 billion. Lafayette had $655.9 million in exports, compared to $488.1 million.
Monroe saw exports rise 3 percent to $140.6 and Alexandria saw exports rise 17 percent to $83.2 million.
Shreveport-Bossier City and Houma-Thibodaux both saw declines from 2010. Shreveport’s exports fell 9 percent to $365.7 million and Houma’s fell 3 percent to $338 million.
The figures showed $1.31 trillion in merchandise exports from 367 U.S. metro areas and $174.9 billion in exports from non-metro/rural areas. In 150 metro areas, 41 percent of exports were more than $1 billion with 11 exporting more than $25 billion.
The Commerce Department reported that much of the growth was fueled by exports of transportation equipment, chemicals, computer and electronic products, petroleum and coal products and primary metal manufacturing.
New Orleans was ranked 15th in the country, with New York, at $105.10 billion, Houston, at $104.46 billion, and Los Angeles, at $72.69 billion, in the top three spots.
There were 308 metro areas — 84 percent of the total — that reported growth in 2011.
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