Niagara Gazette

March 5, 2007

BORDER ISSUES: Binational businesses look to nurture success

By Paul Lane/lanep@gnnewspaper.com

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario — A person traveling from Berlin, Germany, to Athens, Greece, will travel 1,122 miles while crossing at least six international borders.

A trip from Plattsburgh to Montreal covers 55 miles in going from New York state to its neighbor, the province of Quebec.

Yet while the first trip does not require a passport, the latter trip soon will.

This is one of the barriers that business and civic groups along all parts of the American/Canadian border have overcome in forging strong regional ties in their areas.

Groups from all parts of the border region were at the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel and Conference Centrecq on Monday to discuss their successes and struggles. While all have had their fair share of accomplishments, they’re united in the hassle that the national border creates.

Officials in Maine, which shares more than 75 percent of its border with Canada, have more challenges than most. Groups on both sides of the border there are in the midst of a study to improve travel, which due to maneuvering around the oddly shaped boundary is more costly than it should be, according to Tim Woodcock, a lawyer in Bangor, Maine, who’s working on the study.

“The U.S./Canadian northeastern border is the most irregular border in the world,” said Woodcock, pointing to a map of the somewhat lantern-shaped state. “(Interstate) travel is not efficient or cheap.”

Figuring out solutions to problems like this is vital to the economies on both sides, according to Mary Mahon Jones, CEO of the Canadian Council of Tourism Associations. Canadians traveling in the United States spent (U.S.) $10.3 billion here in 2004, she said, and cross-country trade accounted for 5.2 million American jobs. The average American, meanwhile, spends $493 per visit to Canada, she said.

One fear shared by all of these business representatives is the impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require a passport for land, sea and air travel into the United States no later than June 2009. The concern is that many would-be cross-border visitors will put off their visit because of the time or money involved in getting a passport, said Garrycq Douglas of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

“They’re adopting a 19th century concept to the 21st century,” said Douglas, citing increased international trade in Europe and Asia. “The border is an inconvenience we have to deal with.”

While the newly elected Congress appears to be pro-Canada in Douglas’ eyes, he’s concerned those same officials will act to cut off trade between the two nations. He doesn’t see that being an issue among members of Canada’s Parliament.

“Canada gets it more than Washington because if you’re Canadian, you probably live near the border,” he said.

The $1.53 economic impact on Clinton County in northern New York — in which Plattsburgh rests — isn’t the only concern of restricting Canadians’ access to America, Douglas said. From the Two Nations Tours taking visitors to sites in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Manitoba, to the “Two Nation Destination” dual marketing effort between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, officials on both sides of the border see the need for improved access between the two nations.

“Washington loves walls these days,” Douglas said. “The border affects our competitiveness.”