In a global economy, you are what you export. Whether it’s a commodity like oil, manufactured goods like airplane parts or cultural products like entertainment, export trade can drive economies, create jobs and draw major industry players to your state. U.S. exports total $1.45 trillion, and each state’s biggest industries contribute to that haul in their own unique way with their own unique goods.
Alabama: Passenger Vehicle Goods
When someone mentions Hyundai, Honda and Mercedes, you might think of cars made in South Korea, Japan and Germany, and you’d be right — sort of. Alabama is one of the five biggest automotive states in the country and home to major assembly plants from all three foreign automakers. In 2016, a record $9 billion worth of Alabama-made automobiles and car parts left the state bound for destinations like Germany, China and Canada.
Alaska: Zinc Ores and Concentrates
Most of the major railways, ports, roads and even cities in Alaska were developed to prop up the state’s massive mining industry. Minerals account for more than one-third of all state exports, with zinc leading the way. Zinc is used to make a range of consumer goods, including sunscreen, which is ironic considering so much of it comes from a state with areas that endure 67 straight days of darkness every year.
Arizona: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Arizona boasts 300 days of sunshine a year and skies that are no-fly zones for clouds. Such flawless flying and testing conditions have attracted the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and more than 1,200 other aerospace and defense companies to the state. Just two other states contribute more to the aerospace and defense supply chain.
Arkansas: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
When someone mentions the Arkansas economy, it’s likely that big-box retailer Walmart comes to mind — but move over, Walton family. Nearly one-fifth of Arkansas’ exports come from the $1 billion-plus civilian aircraft, engines and parts industry. About 180 aviation companies — and the 10,000 jobs they produce — are based in the state, which is home to 91 public airports.
California: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
California is the world’s sixth-largest economy, right behind the U.K. — but it’s not all thanks to Hollywood and the state’s massive wine and agricultural sectors. California’s $61.6 billion aerospace industry, and the 511,000 jobs it’s responsible for, are bigger than the state’s entertainment and farming industries combined. When you count the industry’s indirect economic impact, aerospace is a $100 billion business in the state.
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Colorado: Electronic Integrated Circuits
Colorado’s beef industry, and the Western ranchers and cattlemen who dominate it, have been legendary since the Old West. But with $390 million in exports, the electronic integrated circuits industry beats out even the exports that come off of Colorado’s famous Angus, Hereford and Simmental cows. A huge number of Colorado-made circuits wind up in Israel.
Connecticut: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
The quaint New England state of Connecticut is so thoroughly dominated by the aerospace industry that every other state export looks minuscule in comparison. Even though the sector has declined steadily since 2013, the civilian aircraft, engines and parts industry still claims more than 40 percent of total Connecticut exports.
Medicaments are a category of all kinds of products and substances used across several fields of therapy — and if you need them, you should consider a trip to the First State. The industry has slipped recently in Delaware, but medicaments still represent more than one-fifth of the state’s total exports.
Florida: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
For people who have been to the moon — or anywhere in outer space in general — chances are that they probably departed from the Sunshine State. From Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Coast to Eglin Air Force Base on the Panhandle, Florida is a patchwork of mixed aerospace interests and enterprises. The biggest chunk of it all is the $5.42 billion worth of civilian aircraft, engines and parts exports that leave the state.
Georgia: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Georgia is the Peach State, but peaches don’t even make the top 25 in the state’s list of biggest exports. The king of that hill is aerospace. Home to 800 companies in the industry, Georgia exports $8 billion worth of aerospace products, with the lion’s share of that coming from civilian aircraft, engines and parts.
Hawaii: Airplane and Helicopter Parts
You might think the island nation’s main exports are pineapples and good vibes, but oddly enough, it’s helicopter and airplane parts. Like helicopters themselves, the industry has had its ups and downs in the state. In 2013, the sector was responsible for just $83 million in exports. By 2015, that number spiked to $393 million before promptly sinking to $220 million a year later.
Idaho: Electronic Integrated Circuits
Everyone knows that potatoes are the biggest thing to come out of Idaho — everyone is wrong. Potatoes are actually the state’s No. 18 export. The crown goes to electronic integrated circuits, which are such a big deal that the University of Idaho teaches a course on them. The industry has more than doubled in recent years in Idaho, which counts South Korea among its biggest trade partners.
Illinois: Light Oil, Petroleum, Bitumen and Biodiesel
Texas or Alaska might come to mind in a discussion about American energy producers, but don’t count out the Land of Lincoln. More than 32,000 oil wells are pumping throughout Illinois, with 40 out of the state’s 102 counties producing black gold. Most of the action is in the Illinois basin, which has pushed oil up just enough to squeak past soybeans as the state’s top export.
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Right next to Illinois sits another Midwestern state that’s famous for something that isn’t it’s biggest export — basketball, after all, doesn’t count. It’s Indiana, and it unloads more measured doses of retail medicaments than anything else. In all, medicaments account for more than 10 percent of everything that leaves the state — and that’s after several years of decline.
Some Midwestern states don’t export the things that make them famous. Iowa is not one of those states. Iowa is known for corn — and movies about baseball fields carved out of cornfields — and that’s exactly what it exports the most. In the 2016-17 season alone, Iowa farmers grew 150 billion pounds of the veggie across 13.5 million acres of land. In all, the world takes nearly $1.2 billion worth of corn from the state of Iowa.
Kansas: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
When you take away tornadoes and “The Wizard of Oz,” Kansas is probably most famous for its massive herds of cows and fields of wheat, corn and soybeans — and all those things are top exports in the state. But none are as big as the aerospace industry, which is going strong in Kansas, thanks to the presence of companies like Spirit Aerosystems, Beechcraft, Bombardier Learjet and Cessna Aircraft.
Kentucky: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Civilian aircraft, engines and parts are a recurring theme on this list when it comes to lucrative exports — and Kentucky is getting in on the action to the tune of $10.8 billion. In 2016, that was 37 percent of all exports coming out of the state, which represents a value over eight times more than the Appalachian state’s next biggest export. The industry continues to grow, with aerospace exports climbing by 183 percent over the last five years.
Louisiana’s biggest cash crop is soybeans, which takes the title of chief export, just barely beating out oil. 2017 was a tough year for farmers in the Pelican State. Hurricane Harvey flooded fields throughout Louisiana — and soybeans are especially vulnerable to water damage. Soon after, however, the state enjoyed a long dry spell that allowed producers to recover much of their crop.
For seafood lovers, Maine is a shellfish mecca known for the world’s best lobster. Unfortunately for bottom feeders with exoskeletons and tasty tails and claws, lobster is the state’s chief export. Maine lobsters — 100 percent of which are hand caught on small day boats — represent more than 13 percent of Maine’s entire export economy. A record 130 million pounds were hauled in during 2016.
The helicopter industry is booming in the Mid-Atlantic state of Maryland. In 2016 — the last year for which data is available — the state exported $438 million worth. That might not seem like a lot — until you consider that number represents a more than 441 percent increase over the year prior, when the state exported just $81 million worth of helicopters. Just two years earlier in 2013, Maryland exported exactly zero dollars worth of choppers.
Massachusetts: Waste and Scrap Gold
The Massachusetts economy enjoys an export market that’s so diversified that the state’s No. 1 export — waste and scrap gold — claimed just 5.8 percent of total exports in 2016, the last year for which data is available. That, however, represented more than double the share the industry held the year prior. And in 2013, the .1 percent share of exports the scrap gold industry represented was barely a blip on the radar.
Michigan: Motor Vehicle and Transportation Goods
The American automotive industry was born in Michigan — and the motor vehicles and the parts that keep them running still dominate the state’s export market. At the top of the heap is the motor vehicle and transportation goods sector, which includes engines, ignition switches and spark plugs. Vehicles are so woven into the state’s economy that 10 of the top 11 exports are related to cars and trucks.
Minnesota: Medical Needles and Catheters
Hundreds of medical supply companies call Minnesota home — and the state has the export tallies to prove it. Minnesota’s market is diverse, so medical needles and catheters only account for a little more than 4 percent of the state total — and what a total it is. In all, Minnesota’s exports account for $33 billion in revenue annually.
Mississippi: Petroleum, Oil and Bitumen
Positioned on the oil-rich Gulf Coast, Mississippi enjoyed a run as a leading energy producer. Then, a global dip in oil prices set in and Mississippi — and energy producers worldwide — suffered a massive economic contraction. Even though non-crude oil exports dropped from more than $3 billion in 2013 to less than $2 billion in 2016, petroleum is still at the top of the heap, representing more than 18 percent of all Mississippi exports.
Missouri: Motor Vehicle and Transportation Goods
In 2016, Missouri’s robust auto industry got even stronger, growing by 15 percent that year alone. Although 2017 numbers have not yet been released, the trend appears to be continuing, with major players like Ford, GM and Chevrolet making massive investments in recent years. Half of all Harley-Davidsons built today come out of the Show Me state. Motor vehicles and transportation goods are the state’s No. 1 export — motorcycles are No. 3.
Montana: Tobacco Cigarettes
Although the country as a whole is quitting smoking, you wouldn’t know it by looking at Montana’s recent export history. What was a $34 million industry in 2013 jumped to $53 million a year later, then more than doubled to $119 million in 2015 before climbing all the way to $185 million in 2016, the last year with published data. Part of the increase is that unlike most states, Montana is hospitable to the tobacco industry, which recently led a well-financed and ultimately successful campaign to torpedo a proposed tax hike on tobacco in the state.
For those wondering where the beef is, it’s in Nebraska. The state’s No. 1 export is fresh beef. And frozen beef takes second place. Nebraska is undoubtedly cattle country. Cows outnumber people four to one and America’s top three beef counties are all located in Nebraska. The $12.1 billion industry represents the largest segment of the Nebraska agriculture industry, which is the largest sector of the state’s economy.
Nevada: Unwrought Nonmonetary Gold
Nevada is home to Las Vegas, whose casinos, shows and entertainment are the biggest game in town — or so you’d think. In reality, the nonmonetary gold industry casts a huge shadow over every other aspect of the state’s economy, representing nearly half of all exports. Gaming comes in a very distant second, representing just a 5.9 percent share of Nevada’s exports.
New Hampshire: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Aerospace is such a central part of the New Hampshire export market that the state gave birth to the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, which is one of the only organizations of its kind in existence. Among the sub-sectors in the broad aerospace industry, civilian aircraft, engines and parts is the king of the hill, jumping from 1.9 percent of the state’s exports in 2015 to 5.7 percent in 2016, the most recent year with available figures.
New Jersey: Petroleum, Oil and Bitumen
For a state that has no crude reserves, doesn’t produce oil and can claim no fossil-fuel stores whatsoever, you might not have guessed that oil is the Garden State’s main export. Its three major refineries, however, see to it that it is. In fact, New Jersey is the termination point for the largest Gulf Coast pipeline in the country. The industry still represents 5.6 percent of all New Jersey exports, but the energy slump gobbled up $2 billion of the sector’s value since 2013.
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New Mexico: Electronic Processors and Controllers
New Mexico shares a border with the country of Mexico, which is convenient considering that it’s one of the Land of Enchantment’s top trading partners, although New Mexico’s exports also wind up in China, Canada, Germany and Israel. Aircraft components, petroleum products and dairy products are top earners for the state, but none of them are in higher demand than the processors and controllers that flood out of the state. The critical electronic parts account for nearly one-fourth of the state’s exports.
New York: Nonindustrial Worked Diamonds
No country on Earth buys more diamonds than America, and nine out of every 10 of these sparklers that enter the U.S. travels through New York City, most through Manhattan’s legendary Diamond District. The $12.44 billion diamond export industry is the largest in the Empire State, and five of the top 10 exports are related to jewels, precious metals or jewelry.
North Carolina: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
In 1903, the Wright Brothers introduced the world to the miracle of human flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C. One hundred and fifteen years later, the aerospace industry dominates the state — and exports of civilian aircraft, engines and parts are at the top of the industry. The $1.42 billion market claims a 4.7 percent share of the entire state’s exports.
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North Dakota: Crude Oil From Petroleum and Bitumen
North Dakota’s oil boom slowed when a steep drop in worldwide energy prices stifled the petroleum rush that made the state a major player on the global stage. Now, however, rising prices are again leading to increased production, and North Dakota hopes to get back to 1.2 million barrels per day by mid-2018. Oil represents well over half of the state’s total exports.
Ohio: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
In 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers listed the state of Ohio as America’s No. 6 best state for aerospace manufacturing, especially in the Dayton area. No sector in that industry shines brighter in the Rust Belt state than civilian aircraft, engines and parts, which as of 2016 represented 9.6 percent of all state exports for a total value of $4.72 billion.
Oklahoma: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Oklahoma has a long, rugged history that includes cattle wars, pioneer settlements, the forced relocation of Indians and Dust Bowl farming — and none of that has anything to do with the state’s modern economy. That’s dominated by aerospace and defense, which employs more than 120,000 Oklahomans and accounts for more than 9 percent of the state’s exports in the civilian aircraft, engines and parts sector alone.
Oregon: Electronic Integrated Processors and Controllers
With thick, lush, old-growth forests covering most of the state, which has a long history of logging, you’d think timber must be the biggest export in the Northwest state of Oregon. Instead, it’s integrated processors. Intel is the state’s largest employer, putting more than 19,000 Oregonians to work across five corporate campuses in the state.
Pennsylvania: Non-Agglomerated Bituminous Coal
It’s hard to imagine that Pennsylvania would ever be a state without coal, which has been mined there and shipped around the world since the 1700s. More than 50 million tons of bituminous coal is still hauled out of the state every year, with non-agglomerated — that’s a fancy way to say pre-caking process — coal leading the way with more than 3 percent of the state’s total exports.
Rhode Island: Silver Powder
Eight of the top 10 exports to come out of tiny Rhode Island are related to precious metals, precious stones or jewelry, with $174 million worth of silver powder exports leading the way. Much of it comes from Technic Inc., which makes silver powder and flake for the solar industry in its 93,000-square-foot plant.
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South Carolina: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
South Carolina joins a long list of states whose bread-and-butter exports are civilian aircraft, engines and parts. Few states, however, have seen the industry grow so rapidly in such a short amount of time. In 2013, that sector of the aerospace industry accounted for just 3.8 percent of South Carolina’s exports. By 2016, the most recent year with available statistics, that figure rose to just under 18 percent.
South Dakota: Soybean Oilcake and Solid Residue
For a state that’s home to Mount Rushmore, one of the most majestic national monuments in America, South Dakota’s chief export is less than glamorous. The state ships off more soybean oilcake and solid residue than anything else — more than $7 million worth of the stuff in 2016. For those who don’t know, oilcake and solid residue are what’s left over after you extract all the oil from soybeans, and farm animals seem to love it.
Tennessee: Instruments for Medical, Surgical, Dental and Veterinary Applications
Vets around the world rely on Tennessee to produce the instruments they use on the critters in their care. This applies to medical, surgical and dental equipment, which together contribute a huge financial windfall to the Volunteer State. In fact, nearly $2.4 billion worth of the stuff left Tennessee in 2016, the last year that export numbers were available.
Texas: Petroleum Oil and Bitumen Mineral
Although Native Americans discovered it generations before, Europeans first used Texas oil to caulk their boats in 1543. In 1866, the first production well was drilled in the Lonestar State and Texas has been an oil state ever since. Today, petroleum oil and bitumen mineral alone accounted for more than $18 billion in 2016 — even after a year-over-year decline of nearly 25 percent — with other oil products contributing billions more to the state’s export economy.
Utah: Nonmonetary Unwrought Gold
Like Nevada, its neighbor in the West, Utah gets much of its money from the ground — more than one-third of the state’s exports are nonmonetary unwrought gold. The mining industry has a long and proud history in Utah, where the earliest Mormon settlers split their time between farming the land and panning it for precious metals.
Vermont: Electronic Integrated Processors and Controllers
Because you can’t export beautiful fall foliage or skiing, Vermont’s chief export must be maple syrup. Not even close. The state’s top three exports all relate to electronics, with the $982 billion integrated processors and controllers sector leading the way. In total, it accounts for about one-third of all exports shipped out of the New England state.
In 2010, soybeans officially became Virginia’s most valuable cash crop — and nothing has happened to slow the little bean’s power in the state since. Today, soybean exports are valued at $700 million, representing 4.3 percent of the state’s total exports — that number represents growth of nearly 20 percent in just one year.
Washington: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Washington state’s top 10 list of exports include commodities and agricultural products like soybeans, corn, wheat, oil, potatoes, apples and coniferous wood. But the undisputed king of the export hill is the civilian aircraft, engines and parts sector of the aerospace industry. The $46.5 billion business represents an enormous 58.4 percent of all exports leaving the state.
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West Virginia: Non-Agglomerated Bituminous Coal
For nearly 200 years, the state of West Virginia has been inseparable from the coal its residents have been digging out of the ground for generations. It fueled the Industrial Revolution, powered steam ships, won wars and was the source of some of the earliest labor organizations. Today, bituminous coal still represents about a quarter of the state’s exports, although that number has plummeted from 2013, when coal made up more than half of West Virginia’s exports.
Wisconsin: Civilian Aircraft, Engines and Parts
Wisconsin is so well known for its delicious cheese that its football team is named after the state’s cheese packers. The loyal fans who cheer on the Green Bay Packers are called Cheeseheads and they actually wear hats made to look like blocks of cheese. For those who are surprised to find out that cheese doesn’t even have a place among the state’s top 25 exports, don’t worry — you’re not alone. It’s actually the civilian aircraft, engines and parts sector that dominates Wisconsin’s export market.
Wyoming: Disodium Carbonate
Wyoming is known for its rugged natural beauty, open space, Western heritage and horse culture. It’s disodium carbonate, however, that puts food on the table. The mineral, which is critical to making glass, brings in $755 million. That would be peanuts in larger states, but in sparsely populated Wyoming, it’s nearly 70 percent of all exports.
About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.