Cross border connection

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.

Townley was outlining the benefits of improving and increasing relationships with Canadian visitors and their neighbours. The Flathead Valley is an area frequented by Canadian visitors, and encompasses Whitefish, Kalispell and other communities.

Donna Townley
Economics instructor Donna Townley is helping the Flathead Valley region of Montana understand the benefits of Canadian tourism.

Working in partnership with the Montana West Economic Development Group and the Kalispell and Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureaus, they produced a seminar for the regional business community that explained the Canadian economy, the purchasing power of the Canadian dollar and her research-based discoveries 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, the actual definition of 'a lot' is a surprise to many. Townley says 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," says Townley.

She adds that the seminar gave attendees a better understanding of the Canadian point of view, and the economic impact of how Canadians can help their local economy.

"Increasing or even securing Canadian tourism into the Flathead Valley will strengthen the Valley's economy," she says. "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 credit card machines to take Canadian debit cards, as well as other measures."

Townley says 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.

She adds that her presentation was a combination sales pitch and crash course in first-year macroeconomics, all the while outlining some big picture reasons why Montana is of continued interest to Canadians. Providing a basic understanding of what influences the value of the Canadian dollar, as well as the Canadian economy, also went a long way with those who attended the event.

"I used prices for everyday items such as pizza, beer, groceries, a tank of gasoline and other typical things 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 the majority of items," says Townley.

"The ultimate purpose was to inform local business owners about Canadians so they will be able to continue building strong relationships across the border and provide the best customer service possible."

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 says 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," says Kim Morisaki, manager of Client Development and Resources, Montana West Economic Development. "We have heard only great reviews and everyone loved her presentation."

This story first appeared in the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.