Businesses urged to increase ties with Canada

Posted Sept. 16, 2009, at 7 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The timing is right for Maine to look to the north and east for economic development and investments, according to a group of panelists who participated in a forum Wednesday morning in Bangor.

The Maine Real Estate & Development Association hosted the event — titled “Relationship Building With Canada” — to urge area leaders to work harder to forge relationships with the state’s international neighbor.

“They look to us more than we look to them,” said Miles Theeman, co-chairman of Access Atlantica, a group committed to fostering ties between Maine and New Brunswick. “They have huge [economic] stakes in our state, but there is considerably less on our side there. We can change that.”

Already, Maine exports more goods to Canada than any other country, with New Brunswick and Quebec leading the way. While the trade relationship is strong, economic development — particularly when it comes to energy-related enterprises — is ripe for growth.

Peter Milley, representing Halifax Global, a Nova Scotia-based business consulting firm, warned that time might be running out.

“Unless we get our act together in this region, our respective governments will impose solutions for us and we’ll lose control,” he told a group of municipal and business leaders.

Theeman agreed and said area community groups and private businesses should not wait for lawmakers in Augusta to set policy. He said Maine is in a unique geographic position to benefit from an energy corridor between Canada and metropolitan markets such as Boston.

“Folks in Quebec are already talking to folks in Vermont,” he said.

Don McKay of Eaton Peabody, who has been working with Canadian customers for about 20 years, said the opportunity for growth is not without impediments. Specifically, he pointed to the border itself as a minor logistical irritant, to Maine’s environmental regulations as complicated and expensive, and to the U.S. health care system as a potential deterrent to Canadian investments in Maine.

In recent weeks, several area advocacy groups have been meeting to discuss possible international initiatives.

Tim Woodcock, who has been pushing for better relationships since the first east-west highway discussion several years ago, said, “It’s taken us a long time to realize we’re all in this together.”

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