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Technical Notes on the Exporter Database

Updated February 8, 2008

All statistics in this report are from the Commerce Department's Exporter Database (EDB), which provides an annual statistical profile of U.S. exporting companies, including their number, size, industry composition, and geographic distribution. The EDB is a joint project of the Census Bureau and the International Trade Administration.

Latest available data from the EDB are currently for 2006.

The EDB lists all enterprises that could be identified from Shippers' Export Declarations (SEDs) that were filed, per U.S. regulations, for merchandise exiting the country. To identify exporters from SEDs, the Census Bureau used Employer Identification Numbers and other SED information to link these documents to the Bureau's Business Register (which contains information on company characteristics and locations).

All EDB statistics on exporters refer to companies, not establishments. Companies are legal entities that consist of one or more commercial establishments. Establishments are individual business units, or locations, where economic activity takes place. Establishments include factories, warehouses, and retailing facilities. The terms "company," "enterprise," and "firm" are used interchangeably in this report. The EDB includes both U.S.-domiciled companies and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that export goods from the United States.

The linkage process outlined above yielded a 2006 Exporter Database consisting of 245,945 exporting firms, accounting for 88 percent of measurable merchandise export value. Export documents accounting for 12 percent of export value could not be linked to the companies that filed the forms due to a variety of factors—e.g., misreporting by firms, errors in collection and processing, and coverage problems.

Because not all SEDs can be definitively linked to the firms that filed them, the EDB may slightly understate the total number of exporters, especially as regards small companies with only a few export transactions. Nevertheless, the EDB likely captures almost all significant exporters. This is because only one valid export declaration is needed to link an exporter to Census data bases. If a company submits 1,000 export declarations and all but one are invalid, the company is still captured by the EDB.

Due to improvements in methodology and data collection, the 2006 match rate of 88 percent (by value) was 10 percentage points higher than the 1992 match rate of 78 percent. As a result, changes in the number of exporters over the 1992–2006 period should be interpreted with some caution. Some portion of the increase in the exporter population was undoubtedly the by-product of measurement enhancements; however, the extent of the effect is unknown. Whatever the impact, overall trends documented by the EDB are fully corroborated by a large body of anecdotal evidence reported in the media and by an upsurge in U.S. companies seeking assistance from government export promotion agencies.

EDB data on individual firms (including company names and addresses) are not available to the public; federal regulations prohibit public release of confidential business information provided to the U.S. government. All data in this report, as well as in EDB statistical tables available from Census, are in anonymous form. All numbers have been aggregated to a level where individual firms cannot be identified. For data users who desire exporter names and addresses, a number of commercial data base alternatives are available.

The EDB only captures companies that have at least one export shipment during the year valued at $2,501 or more. Also, the EDB tracks only exporters of merchandise—i.e., goods. Firms that export services only are excluded. However, service companies (wholesalers, retailers, engineering and architectural firms, etc.) that also export goods are included.

All businesses included in the EDB are direct exporters, i.e., entities that ship merchandise from their factories (or other facilities they own) to a foreign destination. Excluded from the EDB are so-called "indirect" exporters whose export role is limited to (1) providing components or other inputs to businesses engaged in export production and marketing, or (2) supplying goods to independent intermediaries which, in turn, market the products internationally.

Companies in this report are classified according to employment size ranges. There are no universally accepted guidelines for classifying companies by size. Classification criteria tend to vary with analytical purpose and organizational mission. For the purposes of this report, small firms are defined as those with fewer than 100 employees (very small firms are those with fewer than 20 employees). Medium-sized firms employ from 100 to 499 workers. Large firms are those with 500 or more employees. These definitions differ from those used by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which defines small firms as those with fewer than 500 employees.

Companies in this report are divided into three categories: manufacturers, wholesalers, and "other companies." Company type for single-location companies is based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Manufacturers are firms that fall into NAICS classifications 31 to 33. Wholesalers fall into classification 42, as do brokers, agents, and similar entities primarily engaged in the distribution of goods to businesses. The term "other companies" embraces all remaining NAICS categories. Included here are resource extraction companies, retailers, freight forwarders, engineering firms, and miscellaneous service companies that often market goods abroad and act as exporters of record. Firms for which a valid NAICS was not available are labeled "unclassified companies."

Export product categories referenced in this report are on a NAICS basis. For information on the types of products contained in individual NAICS categories, consult the Census Bureau's Internet site at http://www.census.gov/epcd/naics/naicscod.txt.

Many companies export products that fall into more than one NAICS category. It follows that such companies can be represented multiple times in tables and graphs that profile exporters by type of product exported. This means that one cannot simply sum up exporters in various product categories to arrive at totals.

Any EDB statistics in this report that profile exporters at the state level were compiled on an Origin of Movement (OM) basis. Tabulations on an OM basis assign exporters to states based on the transportation origin of the goods as specified on export declarations. Transportation origin is defined as the state from which the merchandise began its journey to the port (or other point) of exit from the United States. In years prior to 2005, the state of export origin was determined by 'state of origin' field on the SED.

Beginning with the 2005 series of the EDB, the state of origin is determined by the zip code of the U.S. Principal Party of Interest (USPPI) listed on the export declaration. The USPPI is the person in the United States that receives the primary benefit, monetary or otherwise, of the export transaction. Generally that person is the U.S. seller, manufacturer, order party, or a foreign entity. New regulations issued by the Census Bureau in 2004 mandated that the USPPI report the address location from which the merchandise actually starts its journey to the port of export. If the USPPI does not have a facility at the origin of export, or the origin of export is unknown, the export declaration lists the USPPI address from which the export was directed. For shipments of multiple origins reported on a single SED, the location is indicated as the point of origin of the merchandise of greatest value. Due to this change in methodology, state exporter totals from 2005 and beyond should not be compared to state exporter totals from earlier years.

While the new series still has many of the limitations inherent to measuring exports on an OM-basis based on the reported state, compiling export statistics based on the zip code of the USPPI will now allow for analysis of exports on a sub-state basis. Statistics for U.S. exporters by metropolitan area will be added to the EDB website in the near future.

The Origin of Movement—i.e., the state where the export journey begins—is not necessarily the location of export production or sale. While the locations of the export sale, production, and shipment often coincide, they do not always coincide. This is especially true for non-manufacturing companies, which were responsible for 35.8 percent of U.S. goods exports in 2006. Small wholesalers, for example, frequently sell products from one site but obtain the merchandise from unaffiliated out-of-state manufacturers. Many large multi-unit companies (manufacturers and non-manufacturers alike) often disperse essential business functions (production, sales, shipment processing) among several states. This is significant because multi-unit firms, while in the minority among exporters, nevertheless generate almost 80 percent of total U.S. merchandise export value.

Because of the preceding factors, OM-based state trade data should be interpreted cautiously. This is especially true with respect to reported exports of states bordering Canada and Mexico, two of our largest trade partners. Because of the growing integration of North American industrial production, a significant but unquantifiable portion of border-state exports to Mexico and Canada represents warehouse and cargo processing activity, not export-oriented manufacturing activity indigenous to the states concerned.

While the limitations of the OM data introduce some uncertainty into interpretation, these statistics can nevertheless yield useful insights into export production patterns if used judiciously and if corroborated by other, independent information sources on state exports. The vast majority of exporters typically conduct all corporate functions—production, marketing, shipping—at the same site. Ninety percent of all 2006 exporters, and 92 percent of small and medium-sized exporters, were single-establishment companies.

Exporter counts shown for states cannot be summed to arrive at national or regional totals. Attempting to do so will often result in double-counting, because some exporting companies, especially large multi-establishment firms, frequently export from multiple locations.

All statistics in this report regarding the number of employees in exporting companies refer to the total number of workers, not just workers whose jobs are supported by exports. "Employment" also refers to part-time as well as full-time workers on a firm's payroll during Census Bureau reporting periods.

All export value data in this report are on an FAS (Free Alongside Ship) basis and include both domestic exports and re-exports of foreign merchandise.

Statistics in graphs and text have been rounded to enhance readability. For this reason, details may sometimes not add exactly to totals.

Some individual countries have been grouped together in this report in order to analyze U.S. exports to world regions:

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a U.S. preference program consisting of Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) consists of Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

CAFTA-DR is the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. (The U.S. is also a member.)

The European Union consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) consists of Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela. (The U.S. is also a member.)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) consists of Canada and Mexico. (The U.S. is also a member.)

OPEC is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and consists of Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Angola and Ecuador joined the organization in 2007, and will not be included in the country group until data is available for 2007.

Some nations are members of more than one country grouping. As a result, figures cited for the individual categories cannot be summed to arrive at meaningful totals.

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