Overview of Professional & Business Services
A broad and varying industry, professional and business services (PBS) largely refers to the administrative infrastructure that supports businesses with specialized skills. Professional services can refer to a host of services sectors, including accounting, advertising, architecture, computer systems design, consulting, engineering, legal, and research and development services.
The numerous fields in this industry are connected by their reliance on highly skilled labor, and workers often require advanced degrees or certifications. An important contributor to employment and economic growth, private sector professional services in the United States contributed $3 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021.
PBS activities are regularly subject to licensing, certification, and other registration requirements to ensure the specialists are properly qualified. Many such requirements ensure quality and efficacy of service, but complex and opaque regulations often pose unfair restrictions on services trade.
Some of the top export barriers facing professional and business service providers include:
- Local presence requirements, such as mandating that service suppliers partner with local firms, maintain a local office, or hire a minimum number of local hires.
- Licensing and certification requirements, including limiting licensing to a home country’s citizens or discriminating against foreign applicants for home country credentials.
- Taxation issues, such as imposing a double taxation regime on foreign firms.
- Commercial structure limitations, including limits on foreign ownership and not allowing certain types of corporate ownership.
- Immigration issues, such as limiting the number of visas or restricting the movement of visa holders within a country.
- Market access restrictions, which are frequently limits on the number of service providers, their employees, and their economic outputs.
The United States has maintained a consistent trade surplus in professional and business services (PBS) from 2010 to 2020. This category of services encompasses many sectors, including legal, accounting, consulting, research and development, architecture and engineering, and advertising services. In 2020, the U.S. exports in professional and business services reached $183.2 billion, with $117.7 billion in imports and a trade surplus of $65.5 billion.
This dashboard is interactive – click or hover on the graph to view additional data points and details.
For the purposes of this report, “services trade” refers to services provided cross-border between supplier and consumer (ex. remotely, virtually, or via mail), as well as services provided when a consumer or supplier travels overseas. Services supplied via affiliates, or commercial presence overseas, are not included in this data. In addition, in this section, “professional and business services” represents data classified by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) as “other business services.”
Trade by Region
A majority of U.S. trade in professional and business services is with Europe, which received 55.6% of U.S. exports in this industry in 2020, compared with 48.2% of U.S. imports. The Asia Pacific is also an influential trading partner, attracting 22.8% of U.S. exports and 33.9% of U.S. imports in 2020. The United States has surpluses in professional services trade with all major regions, as well.
This dashboard is interactive – click on different years or hover on the column and pie charts for additional information.
In this section, “professional and business services” again represents data classified by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) as “other business services.”
Employment and Wages
In 2020, over 9.4 million people had employment in the professional and business services industry in the United States. Approximately 23% of those jobs were in the computer systems design and related services sector, which leads the PBS industry in employment. Architecture and engineering and consulting services each employed 16 percent of individuals in this industry. These jobs may be either full-time or part-time.
The average annual wage across all professional and business services is relatively high at $88,920 in 2020. The mean annual wage for each sector within this industry, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, exceeds the average for all occupations of $56,310 in 2020. As such, U.S. jobs in professional services offer competitive wages compared with other sectors of the economy. Mean annual wages for both scientific research and development services and computer systems design and related services exceeded $100,000 in 2020.
This dashboard is interactive – click on different years or hover on the bar charts for additional information.
In this section, “professional and business services” represents data and sectors classified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) under North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry code 54 (Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services).
Are you a professional services provider looking for overseas markets? Are you facing a problematic barrier in another country?
ITA’s Professional and Business Services team is ready to provide expertise and guidance on services trade. ITA has a network of trade promotion and policy professionals located in more than 100 U.S. Commercial Service offices nationwide and in more than 75 international markets, to assist with additional exporting needs and questions.
Primary ITA Contacts on Professional and Business Services:
Director, Office of Supply Chain, Professional, and Business Services (OSCPBS)
Contact Heather Sykes
Accounting, Legal, and Consulting Services
Contact Andrew O’Neil
Education, Education Technology, and Research & Development Services
Contact Rachel Alarid
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