Big business pushes U.S. for new bridge

Key issue is physical barrier

By Dave Hall, The Windsor Star

Members of Barack Obama’s export council said Tuesday that unanimous support for a new border crossing voiced Tuesday by Canadian business and trade leaders would be taken back to Washington when the council reports to the U.S. president.

“We have heard throughout today’s meetings that the key issues are the physical barriers at the border,” said Stephanie Burns, chairperson of Dow Corning Corporation and a member of the council. “The consensus all day has been ‘just get it done.’

“We will take that message back to Washington.”

During a joint meeting of the export council and Canadian business and trade officials at Willistead Manor, representatives of the Canadian auto, food and petroleum industries all called for an end to political wrangling and an immediate commitment to build the new crossing, despite the growing lobbying efforts of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

Among those in attendance were Chrysler Canada CEO Reid Bigland, Arturo Elias, vicepresident of international government relations for General Motors Corp., Bob Chant, vicepresident of corporate affairs for Loblaw Companies Ltd., Simon Kennedy, senior associate deputy minister with Industry Canada, David Jacobsen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Kevin Johnson, U.S. consul general in Toronto and Roy Norton, consul general of Canada in Detroit.

Bigland said raising the profile of border issues among executives whose companies may not be impacted on a daily basis was a major component of the daylong meetings in Detroit and Windsor.

John Manley, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which hosted the Windsor portion of the meeting, said if the export council wants to meet its goal of doubling its exports in the next five years, it needs to concentrate on its largest export partner.

“And that means improving the infrastructure at this border crossing,” said Manley. “It’s an important piece of infrastructure for trade, commerce and mobility and it needs to be seamless.”

In pledging its support for the bridge, the Canadian government has offered up to $550 million to pay for Michigan’s share which would then be paid back through bridge revenues.

The loan would also allow Michigan to leverage more than $2 billion in infrastructure funding for roads and bridges. Despite this, the necessary legislation isn’t expected to be voted on in Michigan until fall at the earliest, a major setback for Governor Rick Snyder, who had vowed a fast resolution after he was elected in November.

The major impact of delays at the border is felt in the auto industry with more than 3,000 trucks crossing each way every day, carrying parts and vehicles between suppliers and assembly plants on both sides of the border.

Both Bigland and Ford of Canada president David Mondragon said delays at the border are costing the Canadian auto industry and its customers millions of dollars in wasted costs annually.

“At Ford, we add an hour to every trip to account for delays and inefficiencies at the border and that adds about $200 to the cost of each unit,” said Mondragon.

“With 750,000 vehicles built in the U.S. exported to Canada and Canadian companies exporting 1.7 million vehicles to the U.S., it works out to $500 million in costs that add no value to the vehicle or to the consumer.”

Mondragon said vehicles contain as many as 8,000 parts and “it only takes one of them to be delayed to shut down an auto plant.”