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Event showcases Massena to Canadian companies

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MASSENA - Proximity to the Canadian border is a key asset to prospective companies looking at the north country, according to economic development officials.

Nearly 40 owners or representatives of Ottawa and Montreal businesses gathered Thursday to find out more about the assets Massena and the north country have to offer.

The business prospects listened to presentations Thursday morning at the New York Power Authority’s Frank S. McCullough Hawkins Point Visitors Center, ate lunch and heard Rep. William L. Owens speak at Vino Vidi Vici Restaurant and wrapped up the day with a bus tour of the Massena Industrial Park and General Motors-Powertrain site.

“We want to raise our profile. We want to make sure Canadian companies are thinking about expanding into the U.S.,” Patrick J. Kelly, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, said. “We wanted to provide a forum where we can work on building cross-border relationships.”

Thursday’s event was nearly six months in the making, Mr. Kelly said. The United States Embassy in Ottawa, the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada and the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust are among those agencies which worked alongside the IDA to coordinate the event, Mr. Kelly said.

“It demonstrates to our targeted companies that we have an ability and a willingness to work together to facilitate their expansion into St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s remarkable how willing everyone is to assist and cooperate as we work to promote the county.”

The 40 who attended are associated with small- to medium-sized businesses, mostly between Ottawa and Montreal; two buses picked the businessmen and women up from the those cities to take them to Massena early Thursday morning. One prospect came as far away as Toronto to attend, Mr. Kelly said.

Events like Thursday’s are vital toward attracting prospective Canadian companies, Mr. Kelly said.

“We don’t have a high enough notoriety. If we don’t seek out these companies, they’re not going to come here by accident,” he said. “We have to find what sets us apart, highlight it and build upon it.”

Presentations from agencies like the Massena Electric Department, the New York Power Authority and RACER, which owns the GM site, touted the access to low-cost hydropower, skilled workforce and other assets at the event, Mr. Kelly said. The IDA will then follow up by visiting many of the companies that attended to see how they could be a good fit in Massena or the county, then match their needs to available commercial and industrial space.

The IDA attempted a similar event in Massena five or six years ago but it didn’t generate enough support, Mr. Kelly said.

“We’ve gotten better at our effort to draw people in,” Mr. Kelly said. “Maybe it’s a sign that people are more willing to look at investment opportunities.”

Bruce Rasher, RACER’s redevelopment manager, said cosponsoring the event was a great investment. RACER can meet many more prospective business owners through such an event than by attempting to identify prospects interested in the GM site one at a time, he said.

Some of the businesspeople who attended are in the initial stages of exploring an expansion into the U.S. while others are further along, Mr. Rasher said.

“This is a unique opportunity because we’re able to interact directly with Canadian companies that are here to learn more about the market,” Mr. Rasher said.

Thursday’s event also sends the right impression to anyone considering the GM site, Mr. Rasher said.

“They will come away, rightly so, thinking the community is working together to attract investment,” he said.

At the luncheon, Mr. Owens said the federal “Beyond the Border” agreement begun last winter should help ease cross-border travel for Canadian and American businesses in future years.

“If you can be an hour away from your U.S. subsidiary, that makes a great deal of sense,” Mr. Owens said. “Goods will be able to be moved more quickly because they are going to be pre-cleared.

“Clearly we went through a period were we became very concerned about security,” Mr. Owens said. “I don’t think that’s lessening. I think we’re getting better at it.”

Mayor James F. Hidy and Supervisor Joseph D. Gray were encouraged by the event.

“Good things are going to be happening in this community,” Mr. Hidy said. “We are going to be witnessing the re-birth of Massena and the region.”

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