Trade at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport grew at nine times the U.S. average this year, when compared to the same period from 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even last year, O’Hare’s trade bucked the trend and grew, unlike the United States as a whole, as trade fell 9.06%, and eight of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20.
It finished the year as the nation’s second-ranked port, trailing only the perennial No. 1, the Port of Los Angeles.
This is the second in a series of columns I am writing focused on the nation’s top “ports” — airports, seaports or border crossings — and how they are faring compared not only to last year, in the midst of the pandemic, but previous, more normal years.
These columns will include a look at top trade partners, top exports and top imports for each — and some of the factors influencing the results.
In addition to O’Hare, I will include the top-ranked Port of Los Angeles, Port Laredo in Texas, New York’s JFK International Airport, the Port of Newark and Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey, the Port of Houston, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, the Port of New Orleans, Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Savannah.
In fact, the airport is on track to record its fifth consecutive year of record trade, a streak that is longer than any of the other top 10 ports mentioned above — which are accounting for44.69% of U.S. trade this year — and all but one other top 20.
Between now and the same first five months of 2019, O’Hare’s trade has grown 37.25% compared to 4.2% for the nation as a whole.
As is the case with the Port of Los Angeles, the story is all about imports and, similarly, largely about China. One-third of all O’Hare trade this year is with China. No other country accounts for more than 10%.
For every dollar of trade registered to O’Hare, 77 cents is an import.
In the data reported to the U.S. Census Bureau by Customs and Border Patrol is some limited trade that occurs through the Port of Chicago and some petroleum products that arrive to the area via pipeline. Neither has a consequential impact on the total registered to O’Hare in the data.
Given the volume of trade moving through O’Hare International, particularly on the import side, it leads the nation in a number of these products. All four can be tied to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on life in the United States in 2020 as well as into this year.
O’Hare is responsible for 36% of the cell phones and related equipment entering the United States this year, with 83% of those coming from China and another 7.3% from Vietnam.
The story on computers, still one of the fastest-growing U.S. imports after workers began leaving the office for home last year, is a similar storyline: O’Hare is accounting for 29% of the U.S. total, with 85% from China. Another 6.1% is from Taiwan.
The story shifts from Asia to Europe when you talk about medicine and the category that include vaccines, plasma and other “blood fractions,” like white blood cells.
With medicines — this is one category of prescription drugs and generally pills — 75% come from the top four countries, all European: Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.
With the vaccine and plasma category, Ireland is accounting for 42% of the total this year, followed by Japan at 17% and then another four European nations, which account for almost another 25%.
On the export side of the equation, three of the top five are the same, with two new countries.
China ranks first for both exports and imports. Japan moves from fourth on the import side to second on the export side. Germany moves from fifth to third.
The Netherlands and the United Kingdom don’t appear in the top five for imports, replacing Ireland and Switzerland.