Asian Markets Spur Exports Surge from Minnesota

More than $7 billion in goods were shipped from Minnesota to Asia in 2017, with shipments to Japan notching a 30 percent increase over the previous year.

By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2018 Issue

Minnesota businesses exported $21 billion worth of agricultural, mining and manufactured products in 2017, an 8 percent jump from the previous year, according to figures released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). U.S. exports increased 7 percent during the same period.

Asian markets topped the state’s export list, surpassing $7 billion in sales (up 10 percent). This growth was fueled by Japan (up 30 percent) and China (up 10 percent). Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, Vietnam and India also had impressive gains in sales of $15 million or more.

(Photo: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg)

Exports to North America were up 5 percent to $6.7 billion. Ores/slag/ash and machinery exports drove growth in Canada. Cereals and vehicle parts grew strongly to Mexico.

“Exports continue to be a vital part of our state’s economy, supporting nearly 118,000 jobs in Minnesota,” said DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy. “After suffering export losses in 2016, Minnesota companies have bounced back by exporting 1,053 different products to 203 different countries in 2017.”

Canada was the state’s largest national export market in 2017, accounting for $4.3 billion in sales (up 5 percent).

Other top markets were Mexico ($2.4 billion, up 4 percent), China ($2.4 billion, up 10 percent), Japan ($1.3 billion, up 30 percent), Germany ($887 million, up 16 percent), South Korea ($849 million, up 3 percent), Belgium ($661 million, down 10 percent), United Kingdom ($589 million, up 4 percent), Singapore ($562 million, down 2 percent) and Netherlands ($502 million, up 36 percent).

Optic/medical instruments was the top Minnesota export product in 2017, with sales of $3.8 billion (up 8 percent).

Other top 10 exports were machinery ($3.3 billion, up 5 percent), electrical machinery ($2.8 billion, up 11 percent), vehicles ($1.4 billion, down 8 percent), plastic ($1.4 billion, up 15 percent), aircraft, spacecraft ($604 million, up 19 percent), food byproducts ($531 million, down 8 percent), pharmaceuticals ($429 million, up 26 percent), meat ($372 million, up 12 percent) and ores, slag, ash ($344 million, up 175 percent).

The big gain in ores, slag, and ash (up 175 percent) was driven by major growth in Canada ($203 million, up 212 percent) and Japan ($131 million, up 595 percent).


Strategically located as a gateway to Canada and near the center of North America, Koochiching County’s economy historically grew out of timber production and tourism. While those two industries still represent the economic drivers today, the County and the City of International Falls have been investing to position themselves to support a wider range of business and industries that could be successful here.

Serving as an inland port, International Falls is the port of entry for Canadian National’s main rail corridor from Prince Rupert/Vancouver to Chicago. It is, in fact, the busiest crossing in North America in terms of the number of trains and containers on an annualized basis. The Koochiching Economic Development Authority (KEDA) working with its city and county partners used this as a basis to designate the entire county as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ #259) to provide an incentive for those companies bringing dutiable items into the U.S. The KEDA has two industrial parks near the port of entry—one is 88 acres and lies adjacent to the CN Rail line, the other is a 43-acre, rail-served site that is designate as “shovel-ready”.

Some major projects underway. Taking advantage of the local climate to provide cooling as well as competitive utility rates, the KEDA is working with a developer to site the first data center in the area. The center has selected a site in International Falls and plans to begin construction later this summer. The Falls International Airport recently completed the construction of a new $10.5 million terminal. The Falls Airport provides daily commercial service to Minneapolis as well as Customs services to international flights entering/leaving the country. Building on a tourism industry that provides the gateway to Minnesota’s only National Park (Voyageurs National Park), the KEDA and the City of Ranier are working with local developers that are constructing a distillery and hotel complex on the shores of Rainy Lake in Ranier. Construction is expected to begin later this Spring.

This area has long served automotive OEM’s and suppliers as a location to conduct low-temperature testing. The KEDA has recognized this opportunity by investing in specially designed test facilities, including construction of a third cold room—a 40 ft. x 40 ft. room capable of -40°F—to provide a cost-effective location to conduct low-temperature testing. The testing continues to evolve with the changing needs of the automotive industry including the move toward electric hybrid/full electric vehicles.

Other County assets to support business re-location. The KEDA continues to work with the County and the City of International Falls to prioritize and identify key assets to support business growth and/or re-location. A number of broadband providers have invested in providing high-speed service to large portions of Koochiching County. The network has provided redundancy and has helped to provide competitive pricing. Workforce and workforce development are areas of concern throughout the state and country and the KEDA is working with Rainy River Community College as a partner in providing industry-specific customized training to support current and future demands. In addition to the local airport and rail network, the County and the State of Minnesota continue to upgrade the road systems throughout the County. Highway 53 provides truck transport to locations south with expanded 4-lane access to the Iron Range and Duluth, and connecting to Interstate 35 to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Lastly, a great attribute of the area is its quality of life—four-season recreation opportunities, Voyageurs National Park, low crime, affordable housing and land, re-investments in local healthcare and an active arts scene—all add to another reason to consider the area.

For more information contact Paul Nevanen, KEDA Director, at (218) 283-8585, or visit