Colorado merchants increased exports by 12 percent in the first half of the year, growing from $3.5 billion in 2011 to $3.9 billion this year, said the International Trade Administration.

The growth topped the 7 percent national average for merchandise export growth for the same period, the group said.

“Exports are an increasingly important part of Colorado’s economic recovery as local businesses both big and small start to look beyond our borders to increase their customer base,” said Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade. “The International Trade Association is committed to helping Colorado businesses leverage financing and key resources to boost exports that support thousands of good, high-paying jobs across the state.”

Colorado’s export sales outpaced the 2011 figures in many top destinations – exports to Hong Kong were up 37 percent; Canada was up 34 percent, Mexico increased by 23 percent and China by 7 percent. Key categories of export materials from the state: computer, electronics, food, machinery and chemicals.

Sanchez will be in Colorado Aug. 22 to tour Ball Aerospace and Sierra Nevada Corp.

“The growth in Colorado exports is not just about big companies,” said Paul Bergman Jr., director of the U.S. Commercial Service in Colorado. “Ninety-eight percent of all U.S exporters are small- and medium-sized firms, and our office continues to focus on these businesses as they look to build their bottom line.”

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ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service has entered into a partnership with the Small Business Administration to increase export awareness.