Exports, imports important in Iowa

By Jeff Albright / Guest Editorial

When Iowans think about the economy of Iowa, few of us consider the importance of international trade for our wealth and well being.

In fact, Iowa is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the U.S. and the 23rd largest exporter of manufactured goods in the U.S. Iowa exports almost $13 billion worth of manufactured products and over $7 billion of farm products every year to more than 191 countries. Iowa’s farm exports represent over 5 percent of the total farm products exported from the U.S. every year. Additionally, Iowa imports around $8 billion worth of manufactured goods directly from overseas sources.

These numbers are impressive, and as the citizens of Iowa track the developments of the global economy, it is easy to see international trade will continue to grow in importance over the coming years. However, the fact remains a very low proportion of Iowa businesses are involved in international trade.

There are many reasons for the low rate of involvement in international trade in Iowa.

Often companies do not have the resources or experience to enter into the international arena. For example, of the 4,100 manufacturing companies in Iowa, 95 percent are listed as small- to medium-sized businesses. Operations in this category have been estimated to have as low as a 10 percent participation rate in international business.

Even some of the state’s larger companies are still relatively new to the international trade arena and lack the experience needed to take advantage of immediate or future opportunities in foreign markets. However, there is a growing and compelling need for the businesses of Iowa to educate themselves and to increase their competency in dealing with international trade.

The International Traders of Iowa (ITI) was formed to address the need for information, experience sharing and education on international trade and trade-related issues. ITI is the premier source in Iowa for global business education, assistance and networking. Through forums developed to exchange practical information, ITI works with Iowa businesses to promote exporting, importing and investment in global enterprises.

ITI offers companies many advantages to its members through:

  • Educational events
  • Networking events
  • Information and links to further resources
  • A collective voice for influencing state and local policy


Educational events: ITI offers a combination of peer learning, expert presentations (industry and government experts) and academic presentations. For example, we feel that some of best opportunities to learn are peer sharing events where fellow business people share their experience about a particular topic or country.

Networking events: ITI offers the opportunity for people from service industries, similar industries and dis-similar industries to meet and share experiences. These connections help ITI’s members to jump the learning curve when doing business globally.

Information resource: ITI provides links to a broad spectrum of available resources. We can help steer our members to the right location for the right information. We work with government agencies, other business groups, businesses and service providers to ensure that the members have the most up-to-date information possible. ITI can help members to navigate the confusing mass of information available online and help identify the most reliable and trustworthy sources.

A collective voice: ITI offers its members a risk-free way to have a voice in the larger dialogue on local and state-related trade policies.

As the adage counsels, nothing is certain except that things will change. Generations of Iowans have lived and worked providing infrastructure for the global economy in which we today find ourselves navigating. Their preparation and legacy have provided the basis for Iowa’s evolution into globalization.

In pursuit of opportunity, growth and competitive advantage, Iowa companies have found it necessary to go outside the borders of our state and of our nation. In support of doing business around the globe, the International Traders of Iowa endeavor to serve Iowa businesses by making available resources that will assist in understanding and competing within the global marketplace of both today and of tomorrow.

If you believe understanding more about international trade could help your company or if you would like to learn more about ITI (International Traders of Iowa), visit www.iowatraders.org


Jeff Albright is vice president of global sales and marketing for ESP International and a board member for International Traders of Iowa.