Daniel Voit has a theory on why Santa Rosa's Blentech Corp. is exporting more of its custom-made industrial cookers and mixers that process everything from jams to burrito fillings.
"In modern society, people don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen," said Voit, general manager of the 57-worker company, which sells about 40 percent of its products overseas. "Wherever that trend is taking hold, our equipment is in demand."
Blentech, with sales on pace to reach a record $12 million this year, is one of numerous Sonoma County manufacturers who are experiencing growth in international sales.
Exports from Sonoma County companies rose 14 percent last year to $1.1 billion, according to a new report from the U.S. Commerce Department. It was the second straight year of double-digit increases and the highest sales total in the seven years the government has tracked county exports by ZIP code.
The report highlighted a surge in machinery manufacturing exports, which soared 62 percent last year to $199 million. Chemical manufacturing exports also saw a big increase, jumping 24 percent to $116 million.
The data also showed continued strength in the county's trade with Asia and with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico.
In 2008, the European Union was the biggest international buyer of Sonoma County products. But during the next two years, such exports plunged. The continent has continued to struggle with a double-dip recession and ongoing worries about the debt of Greece and other countries there.
The good news is that the county's exports to Europe rose last year, increasing 11 percent to $178 million. But that total still remained less than half the amount of three years earlier, when exports to Europe totaled nearly $406 million.
In the past two years, Asia has become the county's biggest export market. Sales there increased by 16 percent last year to $483 million.
The NAFTA countries ranked second with exports up 9 percent to $271 million.
Eduardo Martinez, a senior economist who studies the county for Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pa., said exports are "leading the U.S. recovery." The increase in the county's exports is due largely to the growing economies in Asia and Canada.
"Santa Rosa is obviously benefitting from California's Pacific Rim profile," Martinez said.
The exports provide a significant benefit to the local economy, business leaders said.
"When they export their goods, they're importing money," said Jonathan Coe, president and CEO of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.
International trade also supports higher-paid county jobs requiring skills, knowledge and creativity.
"We are not competing on your basic commodity items," said Elizabeth Krauth, director of the North Bay office of the U.S. Commercial Service, part of the Commerce Department. "We're competing on specialty items and we're competing on the strengths of our intellectual property."
The commerce data are considered a rough gauge of export activity. The government is unable to assign all transactions to a geographic location, due to occasional missing ZIP codes, and the area credited for an export may not be the location of its production facility but a company headquarters far away.
Even so, experts and business leaders said the gains presented in the report fit with what is happening in the county and region.