Supercorridor the legacy of earlier mayors’ summits

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Supercorridor the legacy of earlier mayors’ summits

by Martin Cash

A trade mission down the Red River Trade Corridor organized by the Composites Innovation Centre about a year ago came across a manufacturing company in the small town of Winona, Minn.

It turns out the company called Composite Products Inc. was a natural fit to build a prototype for a machine part using the waste product left over from flax fibre processing.

The Winkler, Man. plant of the multinational paper company Schweitzer-Mauduit, the largest processor of flax fibre in the world, was looking to diversify its markets.

The relationship with the Minnesota company might not materialize into anything more than the fabrication of a fairly straight forward prototype but the connection made between the Manitoba and Minnesota companies is really what the idea of the mid-continental trade corridor is all about.

There has been talk this week out of the North American Leaders Summit about potential sovereignty issues from something called a North American superhighway or supercorridor.

There are some mistaken notions that the idea includes the construction of a massive highway infrastructure that would wipe out farmland, people’s livelihoods and generate exponentially more greenhouse gases than is currently the case.

But the fact is that the highways — provincial Highway 75, U.S. interstate highways I-29 and I-35 and the Mexican highway south of Laredo, Texas — are already there.

They were there more than a decade ago when the idea of a mid-continent trade corridor was first being discussed. What wasn’t present at the time was the idea that Winnipeg and Manitoba were viable regional trading partners in that part of the continent.

That’s not to say that trade wasn’t happening, but this city and province had little-to-no profile.

After the North American Free Trade Agreement came into being in 1994, there was an initiative among mayors of some of the cities in the three countries to raise the level of mutual awareness.

Susan Thompson, Winnipeg’s mayor at the time, was part of a charter group including the mayors of Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Monterrey, Mexico who held a number of mayor’s summits.

Those summits lasted a few years but it was not a particularly sophisticated organization. Something called the North American International Trade Corridor Partnership (NAITCP) was formed early this decade with an office in Monterrey to keep the relationship building initiative going.

In the meantime North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO) was formed in Texas to lobby for U.S. federal transportation funds for the I-35 interstate highway. Those lobbying efforts broadened in scope to include trade issues as they relate to the mid-continent region. Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg have been members of that organization for many years, the only Canadian representatives on it.

The legacy of those mid-’90s mayors’ summits now reside with NASCO as the NAITCP merged into NASCO a couple of years ago.

Manitoba’s deputy minister of transportation, Andrew Horosko is the vice-chairman of NASCO and Bryan Gray, director of policy and manager of Executive Policy Committee Secretariat for the City of Winnipeg are the only Canadian representatives on that board.

Greg Dandewich, director of economic development at Destination Winnipeg, chairs a NASCO sub-committee on inland ports. Dandewich has been involved in the process since the days of the mayors’ summits.

He said in addition to being part of discussions on important technical matters related to trade and transportation, the value of Manitoba’s connection to the mid-continent trade corridor is in relationship building.

“That’s something that takes a long time,” he said. “There is no other initiative I know of that has provided a sustained awareness building campaign for more than 10 years.”

It’s not that Schweitzer-Mauduit and the Winona, Minnesota company needed 12 years to forge a relationship but the regions are now far more inclined to seek partnerships with each other than was the case before people started talking about a mid-continent superhighway trade corridor.

© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

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