Strong international relationships support the state's favorable trade climate.

If your next-door neighbor owned a car dealership, you might turn to them first when you needed a new vehicle. Or if you decided to try your hand at keeping beehives in your backyard, you might offer your neighbors first choice at that locally produced honey.

Now imagine that with dollars attached. Big dollars.

That’s a little what it’s like when it comes to international trade and Georgia. In 2016, the state’s exports pulled in more than $35.5 billion, with $5.9 billion and $3.6 billion of that coming from our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, which rank No. 1 and 2 in terms of export markets.

Although exports are down $3 billion from 2015, Georgia maintained its rank as 11th in the country in exports. It’s 7th in imports, and international trade accounts for $121 billion dollars overall in the state.

Across Georgia, more than 14,500 businesses, most of them small or medium-sized companies, are involved in exports. And that dollar amount supports about 200,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Trade Winds

Although Georgia’s exports did decline in 2016, Waters notes that may be a product of an improving economy creating a bit of a headwind. “During the recession, export growth was one of the only bright points,” she says. “The strength of the dollar was favorable, so we saw a lot of export growth from 2011 to 2014.”

But despite a stronger dollar now, there are plenty of places ripe for more trade. Take India, for example – it ranks 21st in terms of exports and 8th for imports, but it’s a big player at the Port of Savannah, where cargo coming to and from India has increased by more than 50 percent in the past 6 years.

Sonjui Kumar, chair of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, says that since India is “second only to China as the powerhouse out of Asia,” there are plenty of opportunities to increase trade and foreign direct investment. She says Georgia has a big advantage with the Indian Consulate combined with a sizable Indian population in Atlanta.

Waters says that services is another area that is “big for Georgia and getting bigger everyday.” It’s harder to quantify, since export numbers are all based on the dollar value of goods, not services. But service sectors that are strong in the state include design, construction and architecture, film, financial tech, and education and tourism.

As for uncertainty in trade policy at the national level, Kumar says the Georgia story is unified and upbeat. She recalls a trip to India in January where her message was “We know there’s a change at the federal level, but [Atlanta] is still a welcoming city – the mayor, the governor, everyone has said that we are still open for business and we are not turning away trades.”

Read the full article: The original article appeared in Georgia Trend in June 2017