Made in USA still means something

14 years ago

Made in USA still means something

To the editor:

This is an open letter to all Aroostook County businesses. It has always been said that here in the county we don’t experience the national booms, but we also don’t experience the national downturns to as great a degree as the rest of the country. I think that we should rethink that statement. For a lot of people, times are pretty tough in the County right now. The fact of the matter is that as far as the continental U.S. is concerned, we are most definitely the end of the pipeline. Everything is more expensive here, from groceries to fuel – two things that have been removed from the inflation index — and from clothing to electronics. The only thing that is cheaper here is real estate, which is not really a good sign. It is more indicative of the fact that our youth have no intention of staying here.

But as bleak as economic times might seem, in every point of economic downturn, huge opportunities exist. Every cloud has a silver lining, so to speak. And this one is no different if we know where to look.

At this point in time, there has never been a greater opportunity for County businesses than exists right now. That opportunity lies in our proximity to the Canadian border. Any Aroostook business that has any product that can be marketed to Canada should focus on this market immediately. The strength of the Canadian dollar, coupled with the strength of the New Brunswick economy — add to that the trade advantages of NAFTA (there is no duty on U.S. made goods) — all combines for the perfect storm. We have never been sitting in a better position.

I own a local business, selling, fabricating and installing granite countertops. Until three months ago, I regularly turned away Canadian business. The reason for this was that I felt, in my line of work, that the installation of the product was too important to be left in the hands of the home owner or the homeowner’s carpenter. I felt that if the installation wasn’t done properly, that the customer wouldn’t be satisfied, and that that would lead to problems. Besides that, up until then, we had always had all the work we could do on this side of the border.

Three months ago, in an effort to expand our business, we began accepting Canadian jobs. Canadian law allows for us to deliver our product from the end of our truck at the consumer’s home. We can also lend the consumer the tools needed to complete the installation, and we can supervise the installation. Within three months, we were doing more than half of our business across the border. We have never advertised in Canada. We have since lined up Canadian installation teams to cover Canada from Edmundston to Fredericton. We will now aggressively pursue this market using media on both sides of the border. We typically sell about 250 sets of kitchen countertops in Aroostook County annually. Next year we expect to sell 500 sets of kitchen countertops in New Brunswick alone. And, we don’t expect our County business to decline. But by focusing on the unique opportunities at hand right now, we are looking for a 300 percent increase in annual sales.

We have added four positions in anticipation of this increase in sales — four on this side of the border. We have also added four positions on the other side of the border to handle the installation of our products. Within one year, we expect to add eight more jobs on both sides of the border. One thing I will say is, don’t look at the cross border labor issues as a hindrance to trade. If your business benefits by doing business across the border, then you should be willing to create jobs there also. Just look at what furthers your business, and focus on the benefits. Believe me, Canada won’t turn these jobs away. And this was exactly what NAFTA was intended to do.

My business is not unique in this position. All we have to do is think outside the box, think outside of our traditional business practices, and take advantage of the opportunities that surround us. Any County business or any business anywhere along the Canadian border that doesn’t target this market at this point in time will surely miss the boat.

Don’t look to government handouts or “stimulus spending” to bail us out of this serious recession. “Stimulus spending” is a euphemism for “long-term debt for short-term gains.” Like all recessions, it will be small businesses that create the jobs to dig ourselves out of this hole, not government spending. And believe it or not, the slogan “Made in America” is still worth something. At least it will get your goods across the border with no duty.

Jeff Beaulieu

Extreme Granite

Presque Isle