WHEELING, W.Va. — Since 2010, the Wheeling Truck Center has exported auto parts to 96 countries. That’s a business model that makes company President Ron Remp smile.
“Fifty percent of our total parts sales involve exports,” Remp said, adding most of this commerce involves parts for Volvo trucks. “We are hitting all the major markets. We have really grown our business in South Korea.”
The company, located at the corner of 23rd and Market streets, also has customers in Poland, Chile, Peru, Greece and the United Kingdom.
Remp said many locals likely walk or drive by his business with little idea what his firm does.
“It doesn’t matter where you are,” he said. “People are looking for a quality product at a fair price. That is what we work to deliver.”
Companies such as Wheeling Truck that do business within the Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area exported $85 million in products last year, according to a new U.S. Department of Commerce report.
Major goods exported last year from the three counties of the Wheeling MSA – Ohio, Marshall and Belmont – are natural gas and oil, coal, metal and transportation equipment.
Coal and petroleum products make up the largest share of the total, about $36.3 million in exports last year. A number of active coal mines continue to operate in the region.
While coal is facing an uncertain future in the U.S., many other countries are increasing their use of coal, thus boosting the local export market.
“The world is going to continue to use coal, but most of this coal is going to be exported,” Scott Rotruck, director of Energy & Transportation Service for Spillman Thomas and Battle, said during last week’s West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association annual meeting.
An area of export growth in the future could be liquefied natural gas. Diego Gattesco, director of the Commercial Service in Wheeling, which operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said that LNG is not yet being exported, though Dominion Resources plans to eventually do so via its terminal in Cove Point, Md. As natural gas drillers capture liquid gases in the Marcellus and Utica shale underlying the Wheeling MSA, the exports for this category will increase.
“Wheeling-area exporters continue to ramp up their international sales with quality, ‘made-in-the-USA products,'” Gattesco said. “By selling internationally, many of these exporters are better able to weather changes in the economy while building their global competitiveness.”
“The Department of Commerce is dedicated to assisting U.S. firms in meeting the needs of global consumers while strengthening our economy and supporting jobs throughout the Wheeling area and our nation,” Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Stefan M. Selig said. “U.S. companies of all sizes are exploring the possible benefits of exporting, and looking beyond our borders to expand their customer base. More than 95 percent of potential consumers live outside the United States and crave the world-class products offered by American businesses.”
Along with coal and oil, the Wheeling MSA exported $4.8 million in fabricated metal products in 2013, up from $4.1 million in 2008.
“These numbers could increase if other companies with the capabilities start exporting,” Gattesco said.
Exports from primary metal manufacturing jumped from $6.3 million in 2012 to $7.6 million last year. Both totals are down from a recent high of $13.1 million in 2008.
“I’d say the $1 million increase could have been a couple really nice sales for a metal manufacturer, not necessarily a trend but a good deal or two,” Gattesco said of the year-to-year hike.
The $85 million in total exports, while up from $74 million in 2012, is still well below the $177 million in goods the area sent abroad in 2011.
“That 2011 increase was largely a booming coal market, which is smoothing out,” Gattesco said. “Because of suppressions and limitations in the data, it’s hard to say exactly what caused the high goods exports levels from the Wheeling MSA in 2011.”
The federal statistics also show the Weirton-Steubenville MSA, covering Jefferson, Brooke and Hancock counties, exported $140 million worth of goods in 2013. This is down from $154 million the previous year – and down from $188 million in 2008.