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Small & Medium-Sized Exporting Companies:
Statistical Overview, 2003

This overview outlines the export activities of U.S. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Data presented here are generated from the Commerce Department's Exporter Database (EDB). Additional information on the EDB can be obtained by viewing the Census Bureau's Profile of U.S. Exporting Companies, 2002-2003.

For a more detailed explanation of the EDB please see the technical notes.

Many SMEs Stand to Profit from Future Global Trade Negotiations

SMEs Export a Wide Variety of Products

SMEs Have a Global Reach

SMEs Export from Every State

Technical Notes on the Exporter Database

Many SMEs Stand to Profit from Future Global Trade Negotiations

The Commerce Department's Exporter Database (EDB) reveals that in 2003 the total number of U.S. firms exporting goods stood at 225,190—almost double the 112,854 firms that exported in 1992. The EDB captures companies exporting merchandise, but not firms that export only services.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (companies with fewer than 500 workers) would be among the major beneficiaries of U.S. initiatives to reduce foreign barriers to U.S. exports. A total of 218,382 SMEs exported from the United States in 2003, accounting for 97 percent of all U.S. exporters. This is up slightly from the 96 percent share registered in 1992.

Very small companies—i.e., those with fewer than 20 employees—made up 69 percent (more than two-thirds) of all U.S. exporting firms in 2003. This is up significantly from 1992, when 59 percent of all exporters employed fewer than 20 people. This includes firms where the number of employees is unknown.

SMEs accounted for over 98 percent of the 1992-2003 growth in the exporter population. The number of SMEs that export merchandise soared from 108,026 in 1992 to 218,382 in 2003.

The SME share of U.S. merchandise exports has recently hovered around 30 percent. SMEs were responsible for 27.2 percent of goods exports in 2003, down slightly from 28.8 percent in 1999, 29.5 percent in 1992 and 30.8 percent in 1997.

The known export revenue of SMEs rose from $102.8 billion in 1992 to $171.5 billion in 2003. This was an increase of 67 percent, while exports from all companies increased by 80 percent over the same period.

Non-manufacturing companies dominate exporting by SMEs. In 2003, wholesalers and other non-manufacturing firms made up 68 percent of all SME exporters and generated 60 percent of total SME exports.

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SMEs Export a Wide Variety of Products

In all major product categories, SME exporters outnumber large firms. For example, SMEs accounted for 94 percent of all exporters of machinery manufactures in 2003. Other export sectors dominated by SMEs were computer and electronic products (94 percent of all exporters were SMEs), miscellaneous manufactures (93 percent), transportation equipment (92 percent),and fabricated metal products (92 percent).

SMEs account for a sizable share of exports in some product sectors. Examples include wood products (63 percent of 2003 exports were from SMEs), miscellaneous manufactures (47 percent), textiles and fabrics (43 percent), food & related products (41 percent), and apparel and accessories (40 percent).

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SMEs Have a Global Reach

Many SMEs could sharply boost exports by entering new markets. In 2003, 61 percent of all SME exporters—nearly two-thirds—posted sales to only one foreign market. On the other hand, more than half—52 percent—of large firms that exported recorded sales to five or more foreign markets in 2003.

All exporters—both large and small companies—benefit from efforts by the U.S. Government to lower foreign barriers to U.S. products. With the implementation of NAFTA, exports to Canada and Mexico by SMEs and large firms relative to the rest of the world rose significantly. The share of SME exports going to Canada and Mexico increased from 24 percent in 1992 to 28 percent in 2003. Similarly, the share of large firms' exports going to those two countries rose from 26 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2003.

Compared with large firms, SMEs are especially dependent on U.S. Government initiatives to open foreign markets. This is because, unlike big companies, most SMEs do not possess offshore business affiliates that can be used to circumvent trade barriers and gain market access. Nearly 90 percent of all SME exporters do business from a single U.S. location, and only 16 percent of SME exports go to affiliates (related parties) abroad. In contrast, 11 percent of large firms that export are single-location companies and 42 percent of the exports from large firms go to foreign affiliates.

Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partner countries represent significant markets for SME exporters. In 2003, almost 95 percent of all companies that exported to our NAFTA partner Canada were SMEs. SMEs represented the majority of exporting companies to other Free Trade Agreement countries as well, including Mexico (91 percent), Australia (89 percent), Singapore (87 percent), Chile (82 percent), and Morocco (70 percent). SMEs also represented at least 75 percent of all U.S. exporters to the individual CAFTA-DR FTA partner countries (Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) in 2003.

Canada is by far the most popular export destination for SMEs. In 2003, some 87,596 SME exporting companies registered sales to Canada—an increase of 94 percent over 1992. Mexico ranked second, receiving merchandise exports from 33,408 U.S. SMEs. Other popular markets for SME exporters were the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.

Together, the NAFTA countries accounted for 28 percent of U.S. merchandise exports from SMEs in 2003. Canada alone purchased $27 billion in merchandise exports from SMEs, followed by Mexico with $21 billion. Other top markets for SMEs in 2003 were Japan ($14 billion),China ($9 billion), the United Kingdom ($9 billion), South Korea ($7 billion), and Germany ($6 billion).

Smaller major markets are among the fastest-growing customers for SMEs. From 1992 to 2003, SME exports to China surged by 416 percent, while exports to Malaysia increased 259 percent, sales to Ireland increased 227 percent, and sales to Brazil rose 152 percent.

In a number of major markets, SMEs are responsible for a considerable share of U.S. exports. In 2003, 47 percent of known U.S. exports to Israel were attributed to SMEs. SMEs were responsible for 46 percent of merchandise exports to Hong Kong, 44 percent of exports to Saudi Arabia, and 41 percent of exports to Spain.

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SMEs Export from Every State

More SMEs exported merchandise from California (53,700 firms) than from any other state in 2003. Other states with large SME exporter populations are Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois.

California also ranks first among the states in terms of the percent of total exporters that are SMEs. Ninety-five percent of the firms that exported merchandise from California in 2003 were SMEs, followed by New York (93 percent), Florida (92 percent), Texas (90 percent), and New Jersey (90 percent).

Likewise, California leads the nation in the value of exports by SMEs. In 2003, SMEs posted exports from California totaling $35.5 billion. SMEs also registered large export totals from Texas ($19.5 billion), New York ($15.9 billion), Florida ($11.0 billion), and Illinois ($5.6 billion).

Although SMEs are responsible for more than one-fourth (27.2 percent) of total U.S. merchandise exports, in many states the SME share of exports is much higher. In 2003, SMEs were responsible for 40 to 75 percent of total exports in Wyoming, Florida, Montana, Alaska, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, California and Hawaii.

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Technical Notes on the Exporter Database

All statistics contained in this report were generated from the Commerce Department's Exporter Database (EDB), which provides an annual statistical snapshot of U.S. exporters—their number, characteristics, and geographic distribution. The EDB is a joint ITA-Census Bureau project and is a cornerstone of ITA's Trade Data Enhancement Initiative, the goal of which is to develop and disseminate improved statistical information on U.S. international trade and its role in the U.S. economy.

Notes: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have fewer than 500 employees. All figures include only identifiable or "known" exports -- i.e., exports that can be linked to individual companies using information on U.S. export declarations.

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Exporter Database.

Specific questions about the text, graphs, and tables in this overview should be directed to

Prepared by the Office of Trade and Industry Information, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The information contained herein should not be construed as advocating or reflecting any policy position of the U.S. Department of Commerce or the International Trade Administration.


Charts and Tables in This Report

Nearly 97 Percent of U.S. Exporters Are Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

More Than Two-Thirds of U.S. Exporters Have Fewer Than 20 Employees

The Number of SME Exporting Companies Rose 102 Percent from 1992 to 2003

The Number of SME Exporters Grew More Than Twice as Fast as the Number of Large Company Exporters Between 1992 and 2003

More Than One-Fourth of U.S. Exports Are From Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises

Large Firms Account for a Majority of Exports

SMEs' Export Revenue Rose 67 Percent From 1992 to 2003

Ninety Percent of SME Exporters Are Single-Location Companies

More Than Two-Thirds of SME Exporters Are Non-Manufacturers

More Than 60 Percent of Total SME Exports Are From Non-Manufacturers

SMEs Sell Relatively Few Goods to Affiliated Customers Abroad

Nearly Two-Thirds of SME Exporters Sold to Only One Foreign Market in 2003

A Majority of Exporters to Major Markets
Are SMEs

Between 1992 and 2003, a Growing Number of SMEs Exported to Major Markets

Almost Half of All SME Exports Go To Just Five Markets

The Share of Total SME Exports Going to Canada and Mexico Increased From 1992 to 2003

From 1992 to 2003, NAFTA Markets Accounted for the Biggest Dollar Gains in SME Exports

From 1992 to 2003, the Fastest-Growing Markets for SMEs Were China, Malaysia, and Ireland

SMEs Play an Important Role in Exports to Major Markets

Most Exporters to Major Trading Regions Are SMEs

In All Product Groups, Most Exporters Are SMEs

In Every State, a Majority of Exporters Are SMEs

SMEs Are Responsible for a Significant Share of Exports in Many Industries

SMEs Claim a Greater Share of Exports in Textile & Apparel Industries Than in Other Industries

SMEs Dominate Exports to Many Smaller Markets

In Many States, SMEs Are Responsible for a Sizable Portion of Total Exports

Table 1: Number of U.S. Merchandise Exporters to the World

Table 2: Value of U.S. Merchandise Exports to the World

Table 3: Number of U.S. Merchandise Exporters to Top Markets

Table 4: Value of U.S. Merchandise Exports to Top Markets

Table 5: Number of U.S. Merchandise Exporters by State

Table 6: Known Value of SME Exports by State

Table 7: Number of U.S. SME Merchandise Exporters and Value of SME Merchandise Exports to the World

Map 1: Sixteen States Each Have More Than 5,000 SME Exporters

Map 2: In Thirty-Eight States, At Least Eighty Percent of All Exporters Are SMEs

Map 3: In Twenty-Eight States, SMEs Export $1 Billion or More

Map 4: In Twelve States, SMEs Are Responsible for At Least Thirty-Five Percent of Exports

Map 5: SMEs Export Goods All Over the World

Map 6: SMEs Export Goods Worth $1 Billion or More to Each of Thirty-Three Foreign Markets

Map 7: In Eighty-Five Markets, SMEs Are Responsible for at Least Half of All U.S. Exports

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