According to the C2ER State Economic Development Expenditure Database, international trade and investment is among the fastest growing economic development functional areas. C2ER defines the international trade and investment function as program activities involving export promotion, international marketing and recruitment, foreign direct investment assistance, and an array of programs aimed at building stronger economic ties between states and other parts of the world.
Since 2012, states have increased their program expenditures in international trade and investment from $61 million in FY 2013 to $75 million in combined proposed spending for FY 2015 – a 23 percent increase. This rise in investment can possibly be connected with the successes of the Small Business Administration’s State Trade Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Initiative, a 3 year pilot program which uses matching-fund grants to assist eligible employers in becoming engaged in the international marketplace. Essentially, the grant subsidizes the marketing costs states accrue in advertising their businesses’ goods and services internationally.
On March 11, 2010, President Obama signed Executive Order (E.O.) 13534, which formalized the “National Export Initiative” (NEI) in an effort to double the nation’s exports in the next five years. This order directs the federal government to increase federal efforts to promote business exports on a large scale. The NEI has been undertaken by the Trade Promotion Coordination Committee – enacted in 1992 by Congress to enhance coordination of U.S. export promotion policy –paving the way for greater federal and state communication and coordination regarding international trade and investment.
Aside from Alaska, which has yet to receive STEP funding, southeastern states are among the top beneficiaries of the program. Below are some highlights from the largest state investors in international trade:
- Alaska – Led by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, “The Last Frontier” has become China’s top importer, irrespective of industry. Seafood comprises more than fifty percent of Alaska’s exports to China. Due to ongoing public health concerns regarding the seafood captured domestically, China has substituted its own firms with Alaskan seafood. In fact, some of the fish imported from Alaska is reprocessed and sold back to America.
- Georgia – Through the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce program, “The Peach State” continues to be a home for internationally-owned businesses. Georgia is also one of the greatest beneficiaries of the SBA’s STEP program, as the grant has allowed the state’s international trade division to help 1,300 companies in 2013.
- South Carolina – Thanks in part to the South Carolina Department of Commerce’s global business development efforts, “The Palmetto State” continues to enjoy a footprint in European and Asian markets, especially Germany and China. South Carolina mainly exports turbines, rubber products, and engines. Since 2014, international trade has grown three times faster than the state’s gross domestic product.
- Pennsylvania – A major beneficiary of the STEP program, the Keystone State’s Department of Community and Economic Development has found success in export promotion. International trade represents nearly twenty percent of all PA jobs; over the last decade, trade supported jobs have grown four times faster than general employment.
- Florida – Through its economic development authority, Enterprise Florida, which offers export counseling and overseas representation among other services, the Sunshine state exported more than $60 billion in goods to more than 200 countries around the world in 2013. As of September 2014, Florida is slated to receive a third round of funding from the STEP program, which is expected exceed $400,000. 
 Illas, Shayerah; Hanrahan, Charles E., Villarreal, M. Angeles. U.S. Government Agencies Involved in Export Promotion: Overview and Issues for Congress (2013). Congressional Research Service. January 31, 2013
 DeMarban, Alex. “China Affirms Spot as Top Importer of Alaska Goods, Spending $1.3 Billion.” 29 January 2014. 1 March 2015.
 Williams, Trevor. “Summit: Georgia’s Export Momentum Growing.” 13 August 2013. 1 March 2015.
 Thomas, David. “How South Carolina’s Economy Benefits from International Trade and Investment.” Economic. 2015.
 Baker, Earl. “Keep Free Trade on the Fast Track?” 24 February 2015. 1 March 2015.
 Enterprise Florida. “Enterprise Florida Announces SBA to Grant Florida with Third State and Export Promotion Award.” 8 September 2014. EnterpriseFlorida.com. 1 March 2015.
Image: Courtesy of Joseph Umnak