Business Monday

Gateway City/Trends: Some less-contemplated imports: coins, wigs and cucumbers

Ken Roberts
Ken Roberts

When it comes to imports of pickles and cucumbers, Miami International Airport ranks in the top 10 among the nation’s roughly 475 airports, seaports and border crossings. PortMiami and Port Everglades aren’t far behind.

Last week, I completed a series of profiles of the top 10 imports, from No. 1 gold to No. 10 medical devices. That followed a series on the top 10 trade partners. Before I jump into the top 10 exports, I thought I would scour the Census data to determine those lesser-contemplated imports where MIA, PortMiami and Port Everglades were leaders among the nations “ports.”

In addition to pickles and cucumbers — they are classified together — that would include wigs, where PortMiami ranks as the seventh most important port. It would include lime used to make cement, where PortMiami ranks second and Port Everglades third in the nation. And it would include coins, where MIA ranks seventh in the nation.

The point is to show, anecdotally, the incredible diversity of the imports and exports that move through South Florida. Through its airports, seaports, on its roads, into its warehouses and into our homes and offices as well as those homes and offices throughout the state and Southeastern United States. And have a little fun in the process.

The South Florida Customs district has imports this year in 1,040 of the roughly 1,167 import categories in U.S. Census Bureau data at the specificity used with much of our company’s work, including in this column. That stretches from $2.61 billion for gold all the way down to $462 of raw hemp, No. 1040.

To the people involved in these less valuable imports, they are no less important than those billions of dollars of gold imports. And they are important, just as the base of a pyramid is important to the top. While the top 10 imports accounted for just under 44 percent of the value of all imports through the first seven months of 2015, the remainder accounted for the majority of the value and, certainly, a greater percentage of the weight.

In fact, each of the top 49 imports have accounted for more than $100 million in value so far this year, from gold to No. 49 beer. The top 232 are worth more than $10 million, the top 578 worth more than $1 million.

While South Florida is not highly ranked in all these categories, it is in some.

Like lunch at a good deli, I will start with a closer look at pickles and their forebears, cucumbers.

The heavy lifting is done in Nogales, Arizona, which sits across the U.S.-Mexico border from Juarez and the fertile farmland surrounding it. Nogales accounts for almost 45 percent of the total. Another four in the top 10 are border crossings in Texas.

So far this year, South Florida has imported $9.53 million in pickles and cucumbers. Almost half enter at 10th-ranked MIA, while PortMiami, ranked No. 12, and Port Everglades, ranked No. 13, account for a great deal of the rest.

From a logistics point of view, at less than $10 million, there are not enough pickle imports to feed a lot of people. But, that said, the imports have grown faster than overall South Florida imports year-over-year, over the last five years and over the last decade.

Pickle and cucumber imports are up 25.93 percent in value this year while overall South Florida imports are down 4.26 percent. Over the last decade, these imports are up 81.28 percent, compared to 59.46 percent for overall South Florida imports.

Those that fly in to MIA almost exclusively come from the Dominican Republic while those that sail into the two seaports are largely from Honduras.

Lime, the kind used to make cement, is one of those imports that has a more direct tie to the performance of the local economy. As lime imports increase, it can mean cement suppliers are finding it more difficult to meet demand with locally sourced lime for the condominiums, office building, homes, roadways and bridges under construction.

PortMiami and Port Everglades rank second and third in the nation with lime imports. While lime imports are down from the record pace set last year, falling from $2.13 million to $1.82 million through July of this year, the only four years when the total has been above $1 million through the first seven months of a year have been in the last five years — since the economic recovery from the real estate-led crash began.

The Port of Seattle ranks first in the nation through July, with double the imports of PortMiami, which registered imports of $972.01 million and Port Everglades, at $845.27 million. The Port of Seattle sources primarily from Canada while South Florida, as is the case with cucumbers and pickles flying into MIA, sources largely from the Dominican Republic.

And what of wigs? While the record $28.82 million total is relatively small, growth is outpacing overall South Florida imports over a one-year, five-year and 10-year period. In fact, the five-year growth rate of 216.10 percent is more than five times the average for all local imports.

The Port of Newark accounts for almost 40 percent of the total while the Port of New York adds enough as the third-leading import destination to take it over a majority. China is the overwhelming leader, with more than 70 percent of the total. Port Everglades ranks No. 16 and MIA No. 21 in this category.

There are numerous other imports where one or more of the South Florida ports is a top 10 performer nationally — wristwatches and handguns into MIA, sewing thread and cork into PortMiami, peanuts and corn into Port Everglades — but I will close with coins that fly into MIA.

While the vast majority fly into New York’s JFK International Airport, coin imports into South Florida have risen more than 143 percent this year to $15.66 million, nothing like the $397.82 million flying into JFK but not exactly pocket change either.

Reach Ken Roberts, president of World City, at Twitter: @tradenumbers. Website:

Lime for cement imports down in South Florida

1-year change

1-year change

10-year change

10-year change

Change in rank


All districts

$ 7,354,168








$ 2,792,863







South Florida

$ 1,817,290







New York City

$ 754,295








$ 661,466







Norfolk, Va.

$ 480,139







Wilmington, N.C.

$ 399,025








$ 339,643








$ 43,801







Los Angeles

$ 18,032







San Juan, P.R.

$ 12,500







Buffalo, N.Y.

$ 11,979







Ogdensburg, N.Y.

$ 11,248







St. Albans, Vermont

$ 7,060








$ 4,827







San Francisco

$ -





Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data