Much of the conversation, as you'd expect, was focused on the recently released Obama-Harper "Beyond the Border" accord (read the Partnership's letter of support), and the next steps toward implementing the initiative's 32 recommendations. Both Portelance and Winkowski encouraged those in the room that active private sector support would be key to ensuring that the Beyond the Border agenda is a success. We assured them that since the initiatives outlined in the plan are things we've been advocating for in Washington and Ottawa for years, the private sector is in stride with them - and will be vocal about it at the appropriate time.
While many of the agenda items are large-scale policy changes that affect the CanAm relationship across the entire border, in the conversation we made a push for our #1 economic development priority on the 2012 Regional Agenda - relocating truck pre-inspection facilities from the Peace Bridge U.S. plaza to the Canadian plaza to mitigate bridge congestion. We have been encouraged since the Obama-Harper plan calls for a pilot project (without naming the site) to do just that, and wanted to make the point that we'd like to see the Peace Bridge be the test site - particularly with the U.S. plaza expansion getting underway. We made a similar case to our congressional members in Washington in January, and have since received word that Ottawa shares the same view. While we didn't get a "yes" (wouldn't THAT have been nice?!), we also left the meeting knowing it's not off the table. Which is good.
Lately we have seen a great deal of outreach from the federal government in various arenas (we had a roundtable with Health and Human Services a few weeks back, one with Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday and the Environmental Protection Agency will be in Buffalo on March 5). These opportunities don't come along all that often, so we take advantage of them to get Buffalo Niagara employers' message into the hands of departmental decision-makers. Tuesday's meeting, and the ability to create a relationship with the top people in CBP and CBSA was specifically important because in our region we eat, sleep, live and breathe the CanAm border. For the border to work correctly, we need to consistently be in their ear with the realities we face and the opportunities we see.
Special thanks to Consul General Marta Moszczenska and the Canadian Consultate for setting up the event on Tuesday. We believe it's the beginning of a fruitful dialogue and a stronger relationship between the Buffalo Niagara business community and CanAm border decision-makers.