THE FIRST ISSUE OF STRICTLY BUSINESS ROLLED OFF THE PRESS ON THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 1990. WHAT PRECEDED THAT AUSPICIOUS DAY WAS MORE THAN A YEAR OF RESEARCH, BRAINSTORMING AND PLANNING. WE PUT TOGETHER A GROUP OF FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES, OUTLINED OUR PLAN AND ASKED FOR THEIR INPUT. ALL WERE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC AND ENCOURAGED US TO PROCEED. WE HIRED AN EDITOR, AN ART DIRECTOR AND AN AD SALES PERSON. WE WERE READY TO GO.
While that first magazine was very basic by today’s graphic standards — black ink only with the exception the bright red SB and list of articles on the cover — we were proud of what we had created. Our cover article featured Amy Whitehead, the executive director of what was then called the Plattsburgh and Clinton County Chamber of Commerce. She had been in the North Country for a little over a year and was enthusiastic about the region’s potential. “I see the future of Clinton County as really promising,” she said. “We’ve got a number of U.S. and Canadian businesses inquiring about relocating. People don’t realize how fast our economy could grow.” And it did! Whitehead left the Chamber and the area in the mid-1990s; she currently lives in Las Vegas.
The most prophetic article in that first issue of SB was one authored by Mark Barie, the co-founder of Crossborder Immigration, Real Estate and Management Consulting based in Rouses Point. Barie is now retired, living in Florida and enjoying a new career as a successful fiction author.
THE CANADIANS ARE COMING! THE CANADIANS ARE COMING!
That slightly different version of a Revolutionary War period battle cry, contains more than just a grain of truth. For those of us in business, the prospect of increased Canadian investment in the North County is no longer a mere possibility — it is a verifiable certainty.
Wherever the sharp-eyed business person may look, there is evidence that our friends to the North are here in the North Country — and here to stay. If it was ever true that the Canadian presence in our border communities was limited to three months of boating and a few weeks of frantic holiday shopping, there is no longer a justification for such a narrow point of view.
According to a recent study completed by Dr. Prem Gandhi of SUNY Plattsburgh, there are now more than 80 Canadian companies in our region. In Clinton County alone, one would be hard pressed to find a company in any of the industrial parks that was NOT Canadian.
And, there are few signs that the flow of Canadian dollars will slow down. Traffic at the Port of Entry in Champlain is now at an all-time high, rising 10% for each of the last three years. The business climate in Quebec, from whence most of our new business and industry comes, shows every sign of getting worse. No one prays for bad news but the harsh reality of life is that Quebec’s language problems, the soon-to-be implemented Goods and Service Tax and Canada’s higher interest rates are each accruing to the North Country’s benefit.
But few industries will succeed in the U.S. if they are simply running away from a bad situation at home. They must also be attracted to the U.S. and find in our (ten times larger) marketplace the business that will sustain their business. It is no coincidence then, that Gandhi’s study also reports proximity to Canada and market expansion as some of the most frequently cited reasons for Canadian businessmen’s decision to come south. Throw in the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Act and you now have the perfect recipe for a large-scale, long-term economic boom.
For this commemorative issue, SB asked Mark Barie to reflect on his predictions of 30 years ago. Here are his thoughts.
“Much has changed in the North Country during the past 30 years but there is one thing that hasn’t changed. Canadian shoppers, tourists and business people continue their pilgrimage to Clinton County. We now boast more than 275 Canadian-owned businesses. Canadian shoppers continue to swell our sales tax coffers and the number of visitors to our stores, restaurants and tourist attractions, continues to grow.
Almost all of my career in business has been directly related to things Canadian: economic development, commercial real estate and U.S. immigration. In the beginning, our local elected officials and area business professionals did not understand the complexities, much less the advisability, of doing business with Canadians. We were less than welcoming with our tourists. We were insensitive to the needs of Canadian business people and we looked for new business and industry in places like New Jersey and Ireland.
Today, the North Country is a finely tuned and smooth-running economic development machine that welcomes everything Canadian.
It matters not if you are a shopper, a visitor, a tourist, or a Canadian business executive, the North Country needs and wants you. We are now willing to do everything we can to make our Canadian friends feel welcome. That includes bilingual signage, Canadian money at par, payroll subsidies, employee training seminars, tax breaks, and hours-long seminars on the do’s and don’ts of doing business in the U.S. Our local government officials, our economic development professionals and North Country residents themselves, regularly roll out the red carpet for our neighbors to the north.
It required 30 years, hundreds of baby steps and a constant team effort to accomplish what most Clinton County residents now take for granted. Gone are the days when Canadian companies paid minimum wage for warehouse jobs. Gone are the days when we groaned about Canadian shoppers, visitors or tourists. And gone are the days when our restaurants, our tourist attractions and our industrial parks were sparsely populated. And most gratifying to this now full-time resident of Florida, gone are the days when our airport parking lot stood empty.
Thirty years ago, the flow of Canadians to Clinton County was barely a trickle. Today, as my friend Garry Douglas says, we have become “Montreal’s newest suburb”. And we are envied by many. The Canadians are still coming. But now I say, welcome home.