Border Businesses Keep Calm On NAFTA Negotiations

Jun 12, 2017

The North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada has been in effect for more than two decades.  President Donald Trump has promised to renegotiate the deal.  During a business expo in Plattsburgh last week, WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley discovered that many businesses in the border region aren’t worried about the pending negotiations.

From makeup to manufacturing, tourism to technology, and bankers to broadcasters, more than 200 businesses exhibited their wares and attended a supply chain management summit at the 29th annual Business Expo on Thursday. With the border about 30 miles away, many have Canadian trade ties or are branches of a Canadian-based business.

“We’re owned by Volvo and Volvo did not have a presence really in the United States. So Volvo wanted to build a factory to have a U.S. presence and that’s why Volvo basically picked Plattsburgh and ever since then it’s been a successful journey.”  Joey Varin is the human resources business partner for Nova Bus/Prevost, Quebec-based subsidiaries of Volvo.  The manufacturing plants are located in the Town of Plattsburgh, which he says gives them a better competitive position in the U.S.    Varin says at the plant level, NAFTA renegotiations are not an issue.  “If there was concern we’re not hearing it at our level. It’s probably staying up at the corporate level probably through Canada and Sweden. We haven’t heard anything that’s filtered down to our level yet. So to us it’s business as usual and we’re just going to keep putting out those buses.”

Rose Computers Account Manager Michael Page is based in South Burlington, Vermont. He does a lot of his tech work remotely. He’s taking a wait and see position with any plan from the president.  “He changes his mind all the time.  So when he says he’s going to do something until he actually does it I’m not going to bad mouth him, he’s got enough problems.  But I can tell you this and these are facts. The tech industry’s going to be short 2 million people.  So companies like ours are an absolute must. The manufacturing sector is going to be short 2 million people.  I just don’t think he’s going to be able to do all these things that he says he’s going to. So I’ll see what happens.”

Imperial Industrial Park Property Manager Doug Butdorf notes his tenants come from across the U.S., Montreal and China.  “When I talk with our tenants the discussion often lends itself to what is the trajectory of the federal policies. And everyone’s standing pat right now. But I do believe there is some action and some preparations being made by our tenants and the businesses that do business here in anticipation of some potential changes.  But under the Obama administration there was a lot potential changes that were coming under the HR front. There’s a lot of changes all the time in the world of regulation and business.  I don’t see panic from any of our tenants, from any of our international trade friends, from any of our local employees. The only panic I really see is how can  I get educated fast enough so that I can participate in the new manufacturing economy.”

Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says the general attitude of business on both sides of the border toward a NAFTA renegotiation is not alarmist.  “There are updates that can be made.  There are ways to enhance it.  There are things to be added to it that 20 years ago weren’t really thought of as essential to global business. So actually most people are approaching it, particularly our Canadian friends, from a very positive environment and realizing that most of that angst is directed at the U.S.-Mexican relationship.”

In mid-May the U.S. Trade Representative formally informed Congress of President Trump’s intent to begin renegotiating the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.