Cross-border business activity holding steady in Whatcom County

Alana Lindsey packages plumbing supplies to be shipped from UCan Trade's new 20,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Ferndale, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.
Alana Lindsey packages plumbing supplies to be shipped from UCan Trade's new 20,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Ferndale, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

While the recent back-and-forth about U.S. immigration and trade policy has created some uncertainty in the general population, it doesn’t yet appear to be slowing down Canadian business activity in Whatcom County.

Since the presidential election in November, Bellingham business attorney Gene Moses said he has even seen a slight increase in activity from clients. Moses provides a variety of cross-border services, including legal advice and creating U.S. business entities. Many of his 450 clients are small Canadian firms, and many are interested in entering the U.S. market.

“In the business world, I don’t hear as much discussion about politics,” Moses said, noting he can only recall one question since the election from a client about what the new U.S. administration might do that would impact business.

At Moses’ firm, the types of Canadian businesses making inquiries of late are varied. Recent examples include concrete, music, publishing, steel, accounting and pet supply industries.

Jim Pettinger also has seen an increased demand for cross-border services. Pettinger operates UCanTrade Inc., which focuses on sales and distribution.

His company recently leased an additional 20,000 square feet of warehouse space near the main facility off Slater Road to handle more storage for Canadian companies. Part of the increase for UCanTrade is from picking up additional clients from another company – but it’s also because of increased interest from Canadians in doing business in the U.S.

He suspects there are a couple of factors in play for the increased interest. The Canadian dollar has remained below 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar for 20 months now, and it’s not expected to strengthen much in the near future. When the loonie is weak, Canadian businesses can benefit if they have revenue coming in as U.S. dollars.

One other factor is the Canadian economy itself has slowed down, so businesses there now have more time to look into opportunities in other markets, Pettinger said.

While there has been some discussion about the uncertainty among Canadian business people, it’s tempered with optimism, said John Michener, an economic development specialist for the Port of Bellingham. The optimism he has been hearing at conferences in Canada is around new trade policies, with many thinking they will result in benefits for the U.S. and Canada, he said.

The Port’s economic development department tends to focus on larger manufacturers, looking for space in the range of 20,000 to 50,000 square feet. Much of the interest the Port has been seeing lately is from local companies looking to expand, with solar panel manufacturer Itek being one recent example.

“I haven’t seen this increase in local activity in years,” Michener said.

Of the Canadian businesses that appear to be looking around Whatcom County in recent months, Michener said they appear to be very stable firms.

For many Canadian firms Michener has talked to, the most common situation is that they want to keep their operations in Canada but they are doing enough volume in the U.S. to make establishing operations here a possibility.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz