'Aviation cluster' boosts Wichita exports

 - September 1, 2010, 11:05 AM

Wichita, which bills itself as the Air Capital of the World, is the leading U.S. city with respect to exports driving gross metropolitan product, according to a Brookings Institute study. Thanks mostly to Bombardier Learjet, Cessna Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft, the city's "aviation cluster" is its main source of exports. The Brookings report points to Cessna's 166-percent growth in exports between 2005 and 2008 to developing regions such as Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Hawker Beechcraft exports grew by more than 390 percent between 2004 and 2009, and exports accounted for approximately half of the company's sales in 2008 and 2009. "This report underscores the critical role that general aviation airplane manufacturing needs to play if the [Obama] Administration is to meet its goal of boosting exports," said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. "We have lost a significant portion of our workforce during this economic downturn." In his latest State of the Union address, President Obama called for a new National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports over the next five years. The Brookings report points to only four metropolitan areas, including Wichita, that have doubled their exports during the preceding five years. "Our recovery depends on an ever more robust export market for U.S. manufacturers," Bunce said. "It is essential that the Administration more fully embrace the general aviation industry and actively promote it as a significant contributor to economic prosperity and quality jobs in this country." The nation's four largest exporting metro areas–New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston–are the top performers, exporting more than $50 billion each in 2008. Other major metros–Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Seattle–are also global players. These 10 large metro areas generated 28 percent of national exports in 2008. A different group of smaller and medium-size places, such as Wichita; Toledo, Ohio; and Greensboro, N.C., are oriented toward export in ways larger metros are not, the institute found. Exports contribute more than 15 percent of gross metropolitan product in these and seven other U.S. cities, compared with the largest 100 metros' average of 10.9 percent. According to the research report, four metropolitan areas doubled the real value of their exports between 2003 and 2008. "Houston doubled exports largely through sales of chemicals, while Wichita doubled exports based on its powerful aviation cluster," Brookings found. Computer and electronics led to the doubling of Portland's exports, while New Orleans also doubled the value of its exports over the period, driven largely by oil refining. "We call on the Administration to publicly recognize the value of the industry by advancing policies and regulations that support general aviation manufacturing's recovery and continued growth, which include eliminating barriers to entering new markets and ensuring a level playing field worldwide for the sale and maintenance of general aviation aircraft," Bunce said. "We would welcome a visit from President Obama to Wichita to emphasize the importance of general aviation to the nation's economy."