Trading Goods Within the U.S.

Metro-to-Metro: Global and Domestic Goods Trade in Metropolitan America

The amount and value of goods that the U.S. trades every year is astonishing. In 2010, the country moved more than $3 trillion in goods internationally or nearly $8.8 billion, on average, each day. Without a doubt, the trading of physical goods is a major component of the U.S. economy.

However, an exclusive focus on national trade obscures trading relationships among places as different as New York City and Wyoming and overlooks the important variations in metropolitan economies. When policies gauge trade only at the national level—and focus solely on the macroeconomic trends affecting it—they miss extreme regional variety in production, consumption and goods exchange.

This paper marks the first time metropolitan areas can begin to explore their place in domestic and global goods trade networks. Metropolitan trade volumes track which regions generate the most international trade and the level of trade within the much larger domestic marketplace, resulting in a more comprehensive picture of metropolitan and non-metropolitan trading relationships.

Overall, the analysis shows that the 100 largest American metropolitan areas trade the greatest volume of and the most valuable goods. Products leaving these places are worth more than the products entering them. In particular, metro areas that specialize in the most advanced industrial products, such as electronics and precision instruments, tend to trade goods with an average volume significantly higher than other places. These places are also more globally oriented than the rest of the country.

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What’s the Global Cities Initiative?


The Global Cities Initiative is a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase that aims to equip business, civic and government leaders from U.S. and global metropolitan areas with the information, policy ideas and global connections they need to thrive in the global economy. Chaired by Richard M. Daley, the former mayor of Chicago, and directed by Brookings' Bruce Katz, the Global Cities Initiative is helping city and metropolitan leaders become more globally fluent by providing an in-depth and data-driven look at their regional standings on crucial global economic measures, highlighting best policy and practice innovations from around the world, and creating an international network of leaders who ultimately trade, invest and grow together.

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Unpacking trade balances at the subnational scale also shows that, despite the focus on the national trade deficit, every metro area has trade surpluses in at least one commodity, and almost all in more than one. These surpluses are a promising sign for metro areas looking to boost their trade and production levels, even in places with deep aggregate deficits.

This new measurement of goods exchange at the subnational scale raises important questions about the interrelated nature of modern economies, and it has implications for new approaches to trade and investment. Through this work, we hope to engage a new group of innovative thinkers, practitioners and policymakers and provide metro leaders with an understanding of their economic starting point on what they trade, where they trade and how that trade relates to their regional peers. The goal is to enable them to consider new innovative practices from other metro areas and integrate goods movement into their broader transportation plans and economic development programs, especially around exports.


Research provided by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

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