Katie Whitchurch

It’s winter again, the snowbirds are back and by this point I’m sure you have already noticed their presence on the freeways, in the malls and at the store. Unless you take a secret road to work or shop inside a secret mall, it’s impossible not to. There is more to the seasonal relationship, though, than meets the eye and this recent increase in visitors makes for a perfect time to reflect on one of our largest providers of snowbirds – and bilateral trade – our great northern neighbor: Canada.

As Arizona’s second largest trading partner, Canada has accepted an average of $1.9 Billion worth of Arizona exports over the last six years, with 2011 year-to-date numbers for September ($1.47B) showing a projected increase over the past two years. With regards to imports, Canada last year delivered $1.1B worth of goods into the Arizona market including aircraft ($47M), softwood lumber ($42M), and electrical lighting equipment ($32M) to name the top three.

What does $2.3B in bilateral trade mean for jobs? According to a fact sheet from Connect2Canada and highlighted by the Canada Arizona Business Council, it means that 150,000 Arizona employees rely upon continued and increased exports between the two countries, with an additional 16,000 people employed by “…more than 130 Canadian-owned companies” in Arizona. And those are just the employees.

In looking at seasonal and retired visitors, a recent article in the Arizona Republic attributed 556,000 migrations last year to Canadian snowbirds, with the number expected to increase this year. As the Canadian dollar continues to grow on the world financial market, Canadian visitors are finding that their dollar now goes further to purchasing property in Arizona. As described by Michael MacKenzie in the Republic, visitors who once rented “‘…are now buying. People who owned are now upgrading. Most Canadian snowbirds are driven by price and real-estate values are good.’” For a state whose housing market has been hit so hard by the Great Recession, this should serve as a welcome relief. Whatever minor snarls may be added to the traffic grid between October and April are swept aside by the greater impact of dollars brought into the economy.

The role of Canada in a thriving and successful Arizona is impossible to underscore. Arizona economic sectors as diverse as aircraft parts and inorganic chemicals rely on continued exports, while our communities could receive a helpful boost from continued investment in property and goods. Canada continues to promote itself into the Arizona market, with a newspaper ad this past fall stating: “Be part of Alberta’s continued growth. Explore one-of-a-kind opportunities in the oil and gas and construction sectors…” Our partnership has only begun. The continued success of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will usher in further increases in trade between our respective nations – we will need to be ready to meet the challenge.

Our country’s northern neighbor is prepared and willing to continue investing in Arizona, the onus is now on us to establish a system that supports this investment. Last year we saw a great first step with passage of the economic competitiveness package and establishment of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). This year, we will continue to work with the Governor’s office, Legislature and ACA to ensure that the reforms necessary to making Arizona a globally competitive business location are put in place, and that the benefits of doing business in and with Arizona are broadcast to our international partners. To that end, the ACA has already taken the appropriate steps by preparing to open offices on the ground in Canada.

Here in Arizona, we are lucky to have the partnership and goodwill of the Canadian Consulate – Phoenix, whose words I will close with:

“International growth with a focus on the US market is essential for many Canadian businesses. Although Arizona may mainly be popular for winter home investments, it is poised to be a top place for Canadian business investment as well, given the right attention and interest. Canadians already have a positive image of Arizona’s quality of life, would like to do business in an affordable location with proximity to the California and Mexico markets, and appreciate having a shared language and similar legal environments to work within.” – Brad Niblock, Senior Trade Commissioner, Canadian Consulate-Phoenix