PHOTO COURTESY THE COOLEY GROUP
READING THE SIGNS: A billboard made using a recyclable material exported by The Cooley Group. The company’s president says international revenue is up 70 percent over the past two years.
Rhode Island export growth is broadening beyond scrap metal.
International sales of chemicals, electronics and machinery by Ocean State companies led to a 4.1 percent increase in exports in 2012, the third-consecutive year of annual gains.
In a positive sign for the local economy, the increase came despite price declines in scrap metal. Rhode Island’s leading export since 2006, scrap exports fell 7.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures.
Instead, value-added and technology-based products – pharmaceuticals, computer equipment, ships and advanced textiles – made gains.
“If we look back over the past two years, our international revenue is up 70 percent,” said Dan Dwight, president of The Cooley Group, in Pawtucket, which makes commercial awnings, billboards and engineered fabrics for products such as oil-containment booms and fuel-tank liners.
International business accounts for about 10 percent of Cooley’s sales, but Dwight said it has become a priority and attributed the gains to an international focus more than any external forces such as trade agreements or monetary policy.
“It is a combination of factors and complete emphasis on growing the company internationally,” Dwight said. “Also, we have become good at global collaborations with strategic partners and leveraging them in foreign markets to sell our products.”
Cooley now sells to 60 countries, with an emphasis on emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Perhaps because Rhode Island exports come from a wide array of industries and unique small companies, there were few easily attributable patterns in the flow of goods.
Three of the four largest importers of Rhode Island products, Canada, Germany and Mexico, all brought in less from the Ocean State in 2012 than they did the year before.
But many other traditionally smaller importers increased their purchases.
Italy, whose economy has been languishing, more than doubled its Rhode Island imports in 2012, to $131.9 million, becoming the fifth-largest destination for Ocean State goods. Three other eurozone countries, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, also increased their Rhode Island imports.