For the first time in its history, Fresno County's farmers, producers and manufacturers cranked out more than $3 billion in exported goods, led by agricultural crops and processed foods.
The 2013 totals, reported this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce, represent an increase of about $440 million, or 17%, over the value of Fresno County's exports in 2012.
"The export numbers show how innovative California businesses are working to expand their global market share ... ," said Glen Roberts, director of the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration office in Fresno. "If you're not exporting, you're missing out on the 95% of world consumers who live outside the United States."
Crop production in Fresno County represented more than $1.5 billion in export value. Food manufacturing accounted for another $1 billion. Both signify the highest export totals ever in the county for those commodities.
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Tulare County was the only other nearby county to top $1 billion in exports, reaching a high-water mark of just under $1.2 billion. Like Fresno County, most of its exports were in crop production and food manufacturing.
Despite the local records -- which coincide with growing exports from neighboring central San Joaquin Valley counties -- Fresno County represented only about 1.7% of the value of California's exports because of the region's relative lack of production in heavy machinery or computers and electronics.
Machinery manufacturing exports from Fresno County were about $112 million, exports of computers and electronics amounted to about $86 million, and miscellaneous manufacturing exports came to just over $81 million. Exports from all other sources added up to about $255 million.
Within California, the Fresno region ranked ninth among 25 metropolitan statistical areas in the Commerce Department figures.
California's export totals last year amounted to $168 billion. The biggest chunk of that, more than $42 billion, came from computer and electronic products. Agricultural products represented almost $13.8 billion in export value for the state -- and about 22% of that came from Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Merced counties.
The Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's Office estimated that almonds were the county's largest export crop, representing more than 27% of farm goods that made their way to foreign markets.
Countries around the Pacific Rim and in Asia were by far the biggest customers for the region's products. More than $1.9 billion in Fresno County exports went to destinations within the 21 member nations of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, while other customers in other Asian nations imported another $1.2 billion. Additionally, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations took in about $435 million in exports from Fresno County.
Mexico and Canada, which with the U.S. make up the North American Free Trade Agreement, together accounted for nearly $680 million of the export market for Fresno County goods, while European Union nations received almost $565 million in exports. OPEC nations in the Middle East and Africa, as well as Ecuador and Venezuela, took in about $230 million in exports from Fresno County.
One small Valley firm for whom exports are critical is Caylym Technologies International, which manufactures an aerial firefighting system that is gaining acceptance in Europe and South America.
"The export market is everything for us," said Rick Goddard, Caylym's managing director. Exports accounted for about 90% of the company's $1 million in sales in 2013. The company, founded in 2009, has about a dozen employees at its manufacturing plant in Fresno.
Caylym's Guardian system allows military cargo planes to be used for firefighting with a payload of 1,000-liter cartons of water or fire-retardant chemicals. Those plastic-lined, biodegradable cardboard cartons can be dropped from the rear door of the airplane and opened by parachute, releasing the liquid onto the wildfire. Because the airplanes can fly at higher altitudes Goddard said, it's safer for them to make drops at night when firefighting air tankers are typically grounded. It also vastly increases the number of aircraft that can be used to attack a wildfire quickly when air tankers may be in limited supply.
The company is selling its system for use by military cargo aircraft in Spain, Romania and Portugal, and is being adopted in Italy as well. Goddard said Caylym is also in the process of winning approval in Peru and Australia.
"If Italy takes off like we think it will, we'll probably be growing to about 60 employees," Goddard said. "With Italy adopting our system for its military, it's a tenfold increase in our business, and we'll be scaling our workforce appropriately to meet that."
Goddard credited the International Trade Administration with helping the firm open doors with government officials in Europe and navigate the process of gaining import approval for its technology.
"Anytime you export, there's quite a mountain of documentation that needs to be worked through," Goddard said. "With the help of Glen's organization and our own due diligence, we've been able to do that."