Massachusetts trades blood and gold for wine and oil

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No, Massachusetts is not having a gold rush.

But gold somehow makes the Bay State’s list of top 25 exports in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. So where is this most precious metal coming from?

The clue turns out to be the state’s imports: where gold also shows up in the top 25. Massachusetts brings in about $1.3 billion in nonmonetary gold, along with another $223 million in scrap gold according to the data. The state keeps some of the yellow stuff for itself and then sends out $727 million in gold to other buyers around the world.

Gold is not the only precious metal the state trades. The state also imports an estimated $257 million in silver — but seems to keep more of it for itself, as silver does not crack the top 25 list of exports.

The bulk of what Massachusetts exports seems to be parts and supplies for hi-tech equipment and machines. Its top export in 2015 consisted of medical instruments and appliances, valued at a little over $1 billion. Those were followed by semiconductor devices also at $1 billion; medical needles and similar supplies, $997 million; and processors and controllers, $892 million. Gold was the fifth-ranking export.

Blood is also apparently big business in Massachusetts, which receives $508 million for blood plasma and other blood components.

Top imports were a little more of a catch-all. Topping the list is telephone equipment, for which it shelled out $1.4 billion. The state paid $1.8 billion for fuel oil, which does not rank second because two types of oil are listed. Natural gas is $741 million.

When frozen and prepared are included, lobsters beat out frozen crabs — the only variety listed — $508 million to $387 million.

This one’s a bit of a head scratcher: Massachusetts spends $348 million importing what the U.S. Census Bureau describes as “multiple loudspeakers mounted together.”

Wine barely makes the cut for the top 25 imports, ranking 24th at a cost of $201 million.

The public data do not allow one to match the origins and destinations of various commodities. But it does identify Massachusetts’ top trading partners. For both imports and exports they are: Canada, China, and Mexico.

Most of the larger Asian and European countries are on both lists. Conspicuously absent is Russia, along with any South American country. Just two Middle Eastern countries show up: Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Overall, Massachusetts, like the country as a whole, is running on a trade deficit. Imports stood at $33.6 billion, constituting 1.5 percent of the U.S. total. Export totaled $25.2 billion, comprising a slightly higher 1.7 percent of the national total.

There is some debate among economists and finance experts over whether trade deficits are always a bad thing. (See for example these articles here, here, and here.) One thing does seem indisputable: international trade is tremendously important to the state economy in Massachusetts.

Data from the U.S. International Trade Administration offers a snapshot of just how important: 10,709 businesses exported goods in 2015. Most were small to medium businesses with under 500 workers. Five local industries rely on exports: computer and electronics parts, chemicals, other miscellaneous manufacturing sectors, machinery, and waste and scrap.

(Screenshot via

(Screenshot via

Contact Stephen Beale at [email protected].