Greater Des Moines should be able to expand both the number of local companies that are exporting as well as its export markets by 10 percent within the next five years, according to a new regional export plan released today by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

Partnership representatives scheduled a luncheon event in Des Moines today with officials from the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Commerce Department to unveil the Greater Des Moines Regional Export Plan. The plan outlines strategies for increasing international export activity from Central Iowa.

Central Iowa currently has approximately 4,500 companies that are exporting to 190 overseas markets. The initiative’s objectives include getting at least 45 more companies to begin exporting and to add 19  new export markets by 2019.

 Under development for the past year, the plan is part of Brookings’ Metropolitan Export Initiative. Greater Des Moines is one of 12 metropolitan areas, among them Chicago, San Diego and Tampa, chosen within the past two years by Brookings to develop specialized regional export plans.

Overall, the report said, Greater Des Moines could increase its rate of export growth to twice that of state economic growth by 2019 by:

  • Raising public awareness of the importance of exporting to increase job and wealth creation over time.
  • Providing assistance to companies to enter or expand export markets.

Put another way, the initiative’s purpose is “to make exports real and to make a difference in exports,” said Michael Crum, a senior policy adviser on economic development with Iowa State University who was involved in developing the plan.

About two-thirds of nearly 100 Iowa companies that Brookings reached out for input said they began exporting only after being approached by a customer or partner that told them there was an opportunity, he said. “I think that reflects that (exporting) is not in our DNA; it’s not something we’re thinking about,” Crum said.   

Central Iowa companies should consider exporting more services as well as products to increase international trade, the report recommended as one of four strategies for boosting exports. Of the $5.7 billion in exports by Central Iowa companies last year, 30 percent consisted of services as opposed to goods. Currently, financial services and insurance services are the top two exported services categories for Greater Des Moines.

“Our survey work indicates that companies do not necessarily know their services are exportable,” the report said. “As export education continues, even the more negligible categories could show improvement in adding value.”

The four recommended strategies for increasing export activity are:

1. Develop a regional model of export collaboration and coordination.       

2. Market the Des Moines region for global growth.

3. Boost service sector exports.

4. Promote Central Iowa as a leader in ag-biosciences.

To oversee the implementation of the regional export plan, the Greater Des Moines Partnership will form an international council that will meet quarterly. In addition to monitoring the progress of the plan, the council will provide guidance in developing strategies on foreign direct investment and will assist in hosting visiting trade delegations.