The Brookings Institution tallied export values in 2008 for the 100 top U.S. metros, and placed Honolulu 84th with $2.4 billion in export sales, which means Hawaii escaped being in the bottom 15% despite having an economy with very little manufacturing.
It is easier to understand the not-at-the-bottom ranking when one knows that jet fuel refined by Tesoro or Chevron in Kapolei and pumped into planes which then fly to other countries counts as an export. This is in fact Hawaii's biggest export.
It also counts as an export when a local architect designs a resort in Thailand. But Hawaii does have some manufacturing, if nothing on the scale of most mainland cities. Bottled water, especially the kind pumped from the deep ocean and desalinized for sale to Japan and Korea, is a fast-growing export market for Hawaii.
Brookings offered four companies as examples of Hawaii exporters, and two of them are Tesoro and Chevron, but another is Kerr Pacific, parent company of the food distributor HFM, which exports a large variety of foods to other countries.
The fourth example is Maui Pineapple Co., which provides an unintentional reminder that not all exports grow indefinitely. Its parent, Maui Land & Pineapple, closed down its operations, and while some production was taken over by a new subsidiary of Ulupalakua Ranch, the new operators say they are planning mainly to do local sales.
Brookings attributes more than 18,000 Hawaii jobs to manufacturing but says their average wages are below $30,000 a year, one of the lower figures nationwide.