*The views expressed in this article of those of the author and in no way attributed to Fraser Trebilcock or the lawyers and staff within the firm. A similar version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2011 issue of Crain’s Detroit Business.
DETROIT, MICH. + WINDSOR, ONT. — With all the debate and discussion as to who should build a new bridge, we are missing the point as to why a new border crossing is so important. Sure we can say a new bridge is important because the U.S. conducts more trade with Canada than any other country or it is good to have an additional border crossing for redundancy in our crossings, but what does it mean for us here in Michigan?
First, we as Americans know very little about our Canadian neighbors in part because we fail to know Canada as well as Canadians know America. It is time that we, particularly in the Detroit area, consider Windsor-Essex part of our region. Instead of looking across the river and standing in awe that it is another country, we need to look across and recognize our neighbors as our business partners and welcome them as members of our community.
We take for granted our proximity to Canada and do not fully understand the unique relationship we have with Canada. From cars to energy to actors, athletes, agriculture and financial markets, we have a lot in common and a lot to better understand. For example, Windsor was recently named one of “The Top American Cities of the Future,” by FDI Magazine, a publication of The Financial Times. (Cities from Canada, the United States and South America were included in the “American Cities” competition.) That award was given after the Conference Board of Canada said that the Windsor-Essex economy will outperform all other Canadian cities in 2011. That includes outperforming Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Windsor also was named in the top 7 of intelligent cities, by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum, a non-profit think-tank.
Despite the collapse of the auto-industry the Windsor-Essex region remains strong in manufacturing, renewable energy, logistics/warehousing and agri-business. For example, Windsor-Essex has the longest growing season in Canada, averaging 212 days, and the largest greenhouse industry in North America for vegetables and exotic flowers. With a similar growing season, why can’t we have move quicker on the various urban farm initiatives or take Canada’s lead and build just as many greenhouses on this side of the border. In addition, there are currently 14 commercial wineries with internationally recognized wine that we could work with Tourism Windsor-Essex-Pelee Island to promote. And just 45 minutes from the border in Harrow, Ont., the Canadian Government created the Greenhouse & Processing Crops Research Centre where new technologies are created affecting the agricultural industry. Why can’t we link that Centre with all the food technologies being created in and around Battle Creek. We can’t in part, because we are not taking the time to develop regional partnerships across the border to mutually benefit both economies and both nations. We are too focused on ourselves.
In addition to agriculture: Windsor-Essex is investing in the creative industries including digital media and working with their universities and colleges to keep rising talent in the region. Why can’t we work together, as a region to keep rising talent in the region?
As for Ontario’s film industry, given the uncertainty of Michigan’s film industry, Windsor-Essex may just become Hollywood’s next big thing as Ontario has a permanent Film and Television Tax Credit, with an additional 10 percent for productions outside of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Regardless of what happens with the film credits here in Michigan, we should promote Detroit together with Windsor-Essex to the entertainment industry and continue to build upon the existing film industry in Detroit, while allowing it to expand into Windsor-Essex. Should Detroit loose its clout in the entertainment industry we can work with our Canadian neighbors to still keep the industry in the region. Instead of going to work in Detroit, for example, production crews, talent agents and others would just cross the border and work in Canada, just like the 7,000 Canadian health care workers do everyday to work in Detroit-area hospitals.
Organizations in Detroit and Windsor are working together. The University of Windsor is working with TechTown and has joint programs with The University of Detroit, The University of Michigan Dearborn and Wayne State University. (In full disclosure, the University of Windsor is a client of mine). While Windsor Regional Hospital and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital have developed a strong partnership with the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for patients in need of emergency cardiac care. However, to enrich our region with culture and business acumen on both sides of the border, more partnerships around culture and business must matriculate.
The Detroit Windsor relationship is more than just about a border crossing, an annual celebration of our freedom with fireworks, air races or a periodic visit to Erie Street. It is about jobs and commerce, history and culture and the unique geography we share with each other that no other North American city has. While Detroit and Southeastern Michigan’s population may have declined over the past 10 years, if we include Windsor and Southwestern Ontario, we have a much stronger story to tell. In promoting the region, the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Agency says, “economic prosperity does not recognize borders.” We in Michigan should not allow a border to stand in between us and our ability to better appreciate the unique opportunity we have with our Canadian neighbors — To grow our economy and stand out from others. In fact, we should build a bridge between our cities that will be used to enhance our economy as one regional economy.
Author: Fraser Trebilcock