The exporters on the 2007 list reported sales from exports of more than $3.82 billion. That's a 48.3 percent increase from the top 50 companies on the 2006 list, whose exports reached nearly $2.58 billion. While that's a huge jump, most of it comes from the rapid export growth of the No. 1 company on the list both years, Brightstar.
The importance of exports to individual companies varies across the list.
Lopez Foods Inc., an Oklahoma-based company that ranks 34th on our list, generates less than 1 percent of its revenue from exports and there are no plans to try and increase that number. It also imports a small amount of lean beef from Australia.
The company, a provider of sausage to McDonald's, sends small sausage shipments to Hong Kong. "By the time we deal with tariffs and compete with inexpensive labor, we've lost any price advantage we might have otherwise," says Ed Sanchez, president and CEO. "From all indications, we will continue to be a domestic operation."
But Andes Chemical Corp., which is No. 6 on our Top 50 Exporters, is a 20-year-old Miami company whose business depends entirely on exporting. CEO Fernando Espinoza says Asian producers are now able to match and sometimes beat American-based companies' prices – even after paying transocean freight costs.
"Don't ask me how they do it, but they're undercutting us on some goods," says Mr. Espinoza, whose firm's exports of 2,000 chemical epoxy and resin products rose 7.8 percent to $34.78 million in 2006. The lesson, he says, is that seemingly small details such as currency fluctuations and tariff changes can make "all the difference in the world."
The lessons of volatility in the export market can be bitter. Denver-based A&N Quality Products, a six-employee sheet metal fabricator, narrowly made our list at No. 48. It produced$4 million in 2005 sales from exporting cell phone stations to Brazil and Mexico in 2005, but that number was halved in 2006 and will be reduced to zero this year.
Still, the export panorama for Hispanic companies in the United States is upbeat, especially as the United States works out free, or at least freer, trade agreements with individual nations, such as Colombia, Peru, and Panama. In 2006 alone, exports to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua grew at an 18 percent clip.
Such a sudden tariff reduction in Peru – from 13 percent to nothing – initially caught Beam Radio Inc.'s Manny Alvarez Jr. off guard. The change opened Peru's market to the company's Motorola radios and an upsurge in sales followed.
And the benefits of free trade asserted themselves for Peru.
"Now, they are charging no duty – but they are making it up in increased sales tax revenue," says Mr. Alvarez, whose company is No. 22 on our list.
Beam Radio has also learned about how currency fluctuations can hamper the company's expansion.
In a matter of months, it has seen a European radio system known as Tetra, a more secure alternative to cellular telephony, rise in price by almost 30 percent. It also watched as the sol, Peru's currency, devalued recently by almost 10 percent.
"Our entire business is export," Mr. Alvarez says, "so we had better stay on top of exchange rates."
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