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Owens: Cross-border businesses are the ticket to area’s growth

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OGDENSBURG — The St. Lawrence River and the international border should be seen not as a boundary but an opportunity, said U.S. Rep. William L. Owens on Monday.

“The key to economic development in this part of the north country is developing cross-border relationships,” he said. “Canadian investment will promote job creation.”

Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, was touring businesses in the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority’s Commerce Park, a collection of offices and light industry adjacent to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge.

The commerce park, though less than two-thirds full, is evidence of the area’s potential, said Mr. Owens as he stepped out of the DeFelsko Corp. facility.

“That is a very busy place that caters to worldwide markets,” he said. “They’ve been here since 1965.”

DeFelsko is an American company manufacturing inspection instruments and devices to gauge the thickness of industrial coatings. Its founder, Frank Koch, hailed from Ottawa.

“Ogdensburg is to Ottawa what Plattsburgh is to Montreal,” Mr. Owens said. “What we are to the eastern side of the district you can be to the western side.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Owens visited Corporate Center, a cross-border shipping and storage facility and small-business incubator.

“We are 100 percent international; we have no domestic businesses at all,” said owner Marlene V. Chapple. “People use us for distribution to keep costs low.”

Ms. Chapple’s customers range from authors who use her warehouse to ship books to Canadian companies seeking to establish a foothold in the United States.

Cross-border trade could be increased by harnessing the knowledge of Canadian companies in the commerce park, Mr. Owens said.

“To fill this commerce park, you could take someone with good experience and get them to help you out,” Mr. Owens said. “Word of mouth is always the best way.”

Mr. Owens advocated a dialogue with Canadian companies working along the border.

“Talk to them, and have them talk to their friends and neighbors in Ottawa and Montreal,” he said. “These people talk a lot about work force; we have a well-educated work force right here in the district.”

Ms. Chapple handed Mr. Owens a baseball bat as a souvenir, explaining Corporate Center stores them so they can be picked up or shipped as needed to Canadian customers.

“Watch out,” he said, giving the bat a swing. “I do crush them.”

Corporate Center also holds children’s books and cases of vodka awaiting shipment. In one section of the warehouse, a brand new ATV is being stored until it clears customs.

The service is part of a new crop of businesses along the border that handle logistics on a smaller scale.

“Marlene’s essential to our marketing to Canada,” said Patrick J. Kelly, CEO of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. “Having the positive relationship she has with Canadian organizations is a big advantage.”

Mr. Kelly said Canadians visiting the office to pick up packages often go shopping or buy meals and gasoline while on the American side of the border.

“We try our best to keep them circling through,” said Ms. Chapple. “I wish we had more shopping in the area, though.”

He also toured Tulmar Manufacturing, a Canadian offspring of the Corporate Center incubator.

“We work for a company named General Dynamics, as well as others like Bombardier,” said Ms. Chapple, the company’s owner. “Tulmar was in Corporate Center for three years, and then they got bigger.”

The company assembles seats for the U.S. Army’s Stryker armored fighting vehicle and the similar Canadian LAV-III. The company recently signed a lease extending its stay in 7,746 square feet of the commerce park to April 2015.

Though he did not tour the Port of Ogdensburg, Mr. Owens saw trucks exiting the port carrying wind turbine components to the Marble River Wind Farm in Churbusco.

“We passed by one going east,” he said. “It is good news for Ogdensburg: It means the port is working, the truckers are working and money is entering our economy.”

Mr. Owens also visited Ogdensburg Public Library, where he held a meeting with constituents, where he reiterated Monday his support for the proposed four-lane Northern Tier Expressway, the commercial thoroughfare also known as I-98.

In March, the federal Highway Administration said the state Department of Transportation could use $6.3 million that I-98 advocates thought was pegged for an interstate highway to instead improve Route 11.

Responding to a request from Mr. Owens, Administrator Victor M. Mendez said the DOT’s plan to use money earmarked in 2005 for the Northern Tier Expressway on Route 11 was an alternative reviewed along with the so-called rooftop highway.

Mr. Owens had an apparently cordial meeting at the library with members of YESeleven, the local grass-roots anti-interstate organization.

“It was a very good meeting,” said Klaus D. Proemm. Mr. Owens “was a very thoughtful listener.”

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