Increasingly, foreigners don’t just buy the stuff Americans make. They buy only-in-America experiences—like higher education. Since 1972 the number of foreign students has risen every year, with the exception of the three years after 9/11. A record 690,923 foreign students enrolled in the 2009–10 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education. “In the countries that are thriving, there’s increasing interest from families who want access to the American higher-education system and are in a position to pay for it,” said Stephen Schutt, president of Lake Forest College, a small liberal-arts college near Chicago (tuition: $38,320). Schutt spent his 2011 spring break in China, visiting secondary schools. Of the 410 students who matriculated in the fall of 2011, 63 (or 15 percent) hailed from 33 countries. Every tuition dollar is an export.
Tourism has boomed in the age of decline, too. Those lines of people with funny accents clogging up the lines at Disneyland? They represent exports just as valuable as the bushels of grain being loaded onto container ships in Los Angeles. In 2010, a record 59.8 million international visitors came to the U.S., up 8.7 percent from 2009. That year, tourism was a $134.5 billion export industry.
Increasingly, U.S. companies are meeting global consumers where they live. Whether it is Starbucks in Turkey, Mary Kay in China, Taco Bell in India, or an American medical school in the Persian Gulf, U.S. business concepts travel remarkably well. In 2010, for the firms in the S&P 500 stock index that broke out such results separately, 46.3 percent of revenues came from outside the U.S., up from 43.5 percent in 2006.