The 49th parallel can be a barrier for business and the Great Falls Development Authority wants to help Canadian companies breach it.
Members of the authority have travelled to Alberta three times this year on fact-finding missions with the goal of attracting Canadian business expansion to Montana and using Alberta ideas to foster their own agricultural processing sector.
It’s not about poaching, said Authority president Brett Doney.
“The whole idea is to help your existing companies to grow and then be welcoming to companies that are expanding.”
There is a substantial amount of trade between Alberta and Montana and Doney said he’s hoping for progress on a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Trade between Montana and Alberta, as well as between the U.S. and Canada is so critical to practically every industry that we have. We’re hoping that things get resolved on NAFTA quickly and that it actually improves things, opens up more trade, than going in the reverse.
“To us, it’s beyond NAFTA, as I know it is with Canadian agriculture as well.”
Doney and others with the development authority visited Lethbridge and Edmonton last week, meeting with economic development, academic and business personnel. Geography is key to their promotion of Great Falls as an expansion opportunity.
“We do think that we offer quite a few advantages for companies in Alberta that are looking to expand and perhaps want a toehold in the U.S. because we are the closest U.S. metro area to Calgary and Lethbridge. We already have a lot of cross ties, similar culture,” Doney said.
However, he added that the Authority is seeking expertise in helping businesses navigate the different regulatory and taxation issues if they expand across the border.
Great Falls has a population of 56,000 and a trading area of about 210,000, said Doney. In contrast, Lethbridge has nearly 100,000 and a trading area closer to 350,000.
“We’re a bit smaller but very similar communities. We’d love to develop a sister relationship with Lethbridge,” he said.
“We’re envious of what has developed here in Lethbridge over the years and we’re hoping to see if we can do more. We have a nucleus of food processing in Great Falls but nowhere near the scale of the Lethbridge region.”
Doney pointed to one success story in terms of agricultural business expansion from Alberta to Great Falls.
Friesen Livestock Nutrition, based in Medicine Hat, expanded there several years ago and recently opened a 10,000 sq. foot sales and service centre.