Almost 60 per cent of Hunter businesses sell outside the region, but only 15 per cent sell outside of Australia, Hunter Research Foundation data shows.
Thursday's Hunter Economic Breakfast heard that improving the overall number and performance of exporters was critical to improving overall regional productivity.
"The Hunter's industries and firms need to enhance global connections and promote access to international supply chains and offerings that are actually new-to-the world," Hunter Research Foundation lead economist Dr Anthea Bill said.
A higher proportion of Hunter businesses also introduced 'new to the world' innovation in 2018 than the national rate.
The foundation collected data on local business innovation since 2009.
Each year 300 local businesses are asked whether they introduced new or significantly improved goods and services in the year prior.
Figures from the 2018 survey show that 45 per cent of Hunter businesses said that they innovated during the year prior.
This rate is above the national rate of businesses claiming to have successfully introduced or implemented a new good or service (17 per cent) or any broader innovation (38.3 per cent) in 2016-17.
The Hunter rate is on par with the proportion of businesses claiming to be innovation-active Australia wide.
"Our Hunter time series confirms that there is a relationship between innovation and improved performance," Dr Bill.
"It also shows that the benefits for firms who innovate have been growing over time."