Institute reports big drop in Oregon exports

PORTLAND — Oregon's exports fell sharply last year due to the global recession, according to government figures compiled by the World Institute for Strategic Economic Research.

The Massachusetts-based institute reported Wednesday that foreign sales of Oregon goods totaled $14.9 billion in 2009, down 23 percent from the year before.

That ended seven consecutive years of export growth for the state. Nationally, product exports were down 18.8 percent last year.

There were some bright spots. The state's exports rose slightly in the fourth quarter of 2009, and sales to China surpassed Canada as the largest destination for Oregon goods.

"Given the global environment, China is the one market that has continued to grow," Karen Goddin, director of innovation and trade for the Oregon Business Development Department, told The Oregonian.

Officials are trying to link Oregon companies with partners in China and elsewhere, Goddin said, but it's difficult because of the bad economy.

Despite the continuing decline in Oregon's high-tech employment, nearly half of Oregon's exports last year were computer chips and other electronics. Large electronics manufacturers in the state such as Intel and Hillsboro-based TriQuint Semiconductor Inc. ship their products to Asia for inclusion in PCs, smart phones and other devices.

Oregon's exports were down in nearly every category last year, with transportation equipment (down 49 percent), paper (down 44 percent) and wood products (down 31 percent) among the biggest decliners.

Agricultural products, Oregon's second-biggest export category, dropped 25 percent. Part of that decline, however, reflects speculation that bid up commodity prices in 2008, said Brent Searle, an analyst with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Wheat and other food crops are now suffering price declines, Searle said, and the collapse in the real estate market has hurt worldwide demand for grass seed. Oregon farmers have as much as two years of unsold inventory, he said.

"I think it's going to be a slow build back in some of this as the world economy gains its footing," Searle said. "I think our export markets will gradually come back."

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