University of Lethbridge Economics instructor/researcher Donna Townley spent a recent weekend in Montana doing some cross border teaching that she hopes will help the regional economy in the Flathead Valley, which encompasses Kalispell, Whitefish and other communities – and is an area long frequented by Canadian visitors.
Townley was selling the benefits of improving and increasing relationships with Canadian visitors and neighbors. She worked in partnership with the Montana West Economic Development group and the Kalispell and Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureaus to produce a seminar for the regional business community that explained the Canadian economy, the purchasing power of the Canadian dollar and her research-based explanation of who visits the Flathead Valley and why.
While it may be common knowledge that there are a lot of Canadian visitors and residents in the area – year round -- the actual definition of ‘a lot’ surprised many. Townley said that increased awareness of the impact that Canadians have on the regional economy should help businesses better serve Canadian visitors.
“The people who attended understood much better that there is a market in Southern Alberta for the Montana experience, and they want to build a bridge, not close the gate,” Townley said. She added that the seminar attendees learned and began to truly understand Canadians, and the economic impact of how Canadians can help their local economy.
“Increasing or just securing Canadian tourism into the Flathead Valley will strengthen the Valley's economy. I was very pleased to have the support of the Glacier Bank and their people, who talked about Canadian currency. As well, there was a lot of interest in changing debit machines to take Canadian debit cards, and other measures.”
Townley said the debit card shift would be of significant benefit, since a recent survey conducted by VISA indicated that more than 65 per cent of Canadians – who are already among the world’s highest users of debit cards -- would want to use their debit cards south of the border.
Townley said her presentation was a combination of sales pitch and a crash course in first year macroeconomics and outlined some big picture reasons why Montana is of continued interested to Canadians.
“I used prices for everyday items such as pizza, beer, groceries, a tank of gasoline and other typical items Canadians might purchase to illustrate that, even when the value of the Canadian dollar falls to the US dollar (or lower) Canadians will still travel to the Valley, because prices are generally 20 per cent higher in Canada for a majority of items.”
“The ultimate purpose was to provide local business owners information about Canadians that they will be able to use to continue building strong relationships across the border and provide the best customer service possible,” Townley said.
More than 130 people attended the seminar at Flathead Valley Community College. Guests included business owners from Montana and Alberta, local and regional government representatives, and interested citizens. Townley said she is still getting e-mail questions and comments from guests.
“We hoped to identify those businesses looking for opportunities for Valley-wide cooperation to attract Canadians to the area for entertainment, shopping, recreation, home purchase and business investment,” said Kim Morisaki, Manager of Client Development and Resources, Montana West Economic Development. “We have heard only great reviews and everyone loved the presentation.”
As seen in The Legend
Written by Bob Cooney
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