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Canadians selling to the U.S. with low dollar

With the Canadian dollar at low levels, it can be difficult to see the silver lining in such a tough economic time. However, it’s not all gloom and doom.

With the Canadian dollar at low levels, it can be difficult to see the silver lining in such a tough economic time. However, it’s not all gloom and doom. Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, said Estevan businesses ought to capitalize on the opportunity the low Canadian dollar means for business south of the border. — specifically in sales to the States.

While Canada’s economy is slowing down, McLellan noted the economy in the States continues to grow and doing business with Canada is cheaper for them.

“There is money to be made simply by crossing the border. If I go down there to sell something, I’m selling it to them at, essentially, a 30 per cent discount,” said McLellan. “Our dollar is comparatively quite weak, so if we’re buying from them, it’s a challenge. If we’re selling it to them, it’s a good time.”

McLellan said business with North Dakota, with an unemployment rate under three per cent, is a blessing for a place as close to the U.S. border as Estevan. Twenty minutes from Estevan, a trip to North Dakota is hardly the sales mission that going to China, or even Toronto or Vancouver would be, he noted.

“It’s interesting to think about the services we could provide here, in Saskatchewan, for them. Think about safety training. If a crew in the U.S. is doing safety training, they could deliver it in an Estevan hotel,” said McLellan. “They’d pay (with) Canadian dollars, they’re saving, and not battling the high rates of occupancy and costs of rooms in North Dakota.”

McLellan said it’s impossible that there isn’t some business need in North Dakota, with such a low unemployment rate.  Those needs, he added, can be met by Saskatchewan companies willing to look south of the border. McLellan said a multitude of business opportunities exist in North Dakota, specifically in oil and gas.

“Estevan has a lot of expertise in the oil sector, and North Dakota’s a huge part of the Bakken. But I would go beyond that. With the oil business as it is in North Dakota, other sectors are short-staffed,” said McLellan. “You name it, and they probably need it. If I was in Estevan and selling anything, I’d go to North Dakota and see what I could sell there.”

Manpreet Sangha, economic development officer with the City of Estevan, said the city is prepared for whatever the coming economic year will bring, with a market plan designed to attract American investment and promote local businesses.

“For that, we are advertising in certain magazines and papers that circulate in the States,” said Sangha. “Other than that, on the tourism side, we’re promoting energy tours and fishing opportunities at Boundary Dam.”

Sangha said energy tours and tourism are a vital part of the draw to Estevan, particularly in the summer. When the Visitor Centre opens, she said the city tries to do as many energy tours as possible, along with promoting Boundary Dam and Woodlawn Regional Park.

Every year, economic development sets a goal. This year, Sangha noted it has been difficult to do so, given current economic conditions. However, the general goal for 2016 is to increase the number of visitors for rental and commercial development within the city.

 “We’re working on strategies to attract foreign direct investment. We’re also trying to diversify into other sectors, not just oil and gas,” said Sangha. “We’ll be making some plans around that this year. We did our economic development plan in 2012, focused on labour retention, investment attraction and retail development. We’re trying to develop on that, this year.”

With the economy at a slower pace, Sangha noted economic development wants to tailor its plan to the needs and limitations of the current situation. One important goal is to complete projects that have been started in previous years, such as the drafting profiles for the city. 

“We’re working on different profiles, like neighbourhood profiles of Estevan. The community profile will be revised,” said Sangha. “We’re working on it to speed up the interest we get in investment-related inquiries. We want to have documents we can point out to potential investors in 2016.”

Rebecca Westling, destination marketing and communications consultant with the City of Estevan, said Americans entering Canada had increased eight per cent overall at the end of October 2015. 

Approximately five per cent more Americans have been reported entering Saskatchewan from the same time period, at road borders between Saskatchewan and the U.S. Also, around nine per cent more Americans were entering Saskatchewan through the two border crossings closest to Estevan, at the North Portal and Noonan border crossings, at the end of October 2015. Westling noted the increases indicate one positive impact from the lower Canadian dollar.

“It’s difficult to predict what’s to come because of the instability of the dollar. We’re hoping that slow increase we have seen continues, and travellers keep coming to Saskatchewan,” she said. “Saskatchewan’s visitors prominently come to fish and hunt. They take a longer booking window,  and that has a better impact on Saskatchewan tourism as a whole.”

Westling added the lower Canadian dollar is encouraging Saskatchewan residents to stay closer to home and travel more within Canada. Approximately 20 per cent fewer Saskatchewan residents took road trips to the States by the end of October 2015, with 24 per cent fewer Canadians crossing into the U.S. through border crossings near Estevan. 

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