BORDER Jan, 27, 2008, Bellingham Herald

Locals help Canadian firms expand into U.S.

UCanTrade's services range from local addresses to warehousing

Jim Pettinger

PHILIP A. DWYER THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Jim Pettinger is president of UCanTrade in Ferndale. The company helps warehouse and ship goods from Canadian companies. "We cater to people who are in niche markets," Pettinger said.

 

UCanTrade

Founded: 1983.
Company president: Jim Pettinger.
What they do: Provide to Canadian businesses a U.S. business identity and a variety of services to help get products to U.S. customers. Those include shipping, warehousing, technical repair, foreign trade zone assistance and packaging.
The company's 20,000- square-foot warehouse stores a variety of products.
"We're basically a boutique business that helps Canadian companies with the back-end work, so they can focus on marketing themselves to the U.S. market," Pettinger said.
Seminars: Founded in 1997, "Doing Business in the USA" is a program that's been used to help Canadians learn what they need to do to enter the U.S. market.
More information: www.ucantrade.com.

 

BELLINGHAM - In his line of work, Jim Pettinger enjoys watching entrepreneurs succeed, even if it means losing a customer.

Pettinger has been operating UCanTrade for 25 years. The firm helps Canadian companies enter the U.S. market by establishing a business identity here.

His company, located on foreign trade zone property near Bellingham International Airport, could provide nothing more than a mailing address to help a Canadian firm get established. Or it could provide warehouse space, or even do repairs on returned items.

If the Canadian firms do well in the U.S. market, the next step might be establishing a facility or being bought by another firm. Either way, they've made it and no longer require UCanTrade's services.

"As the client changes, we lose a few, but we gain others," said Pettinger, noting that UCanTrade currently handles about 125 companies. "What I enjoy about this business is working with entrepreneurs, seeing them willing to take a chance and succeeding."

Pettinger, along with four other local business people, have hosted "Doing Business in the USA" seminars in British Columbia for more than 10 years.

During that time, Pettinger said he has noticed more B.C. businesses becoming interested in the U.S. market and getting established in Whatcom County.

He took some time to answer questions about the trends he's noticed, particularly with the stronger Canadian dollar.

What are you seeing these days when it comes to B.C. companies investing in Whatcom County?

At the business level, British Columbia and Whatcom County are getting closer than ever, and I see that continuing. You can see it happening now, whether it is establishing a business identity here (at UCanTrade) or all the buildings that are appearing in business parks along Interstate 5, such as the Grandview and COPAC (business parks).

These businesses that get established here in Whatcom County will start off as small operations, but it is a great opportunity for this area if they are successful in the U.S. market. Not only will they grow here and add employees, but they'll use other business services, such as accountants.

What are the biggest factors for this change?

There are a couple of trends taking place. One is the maturation of B.C. businesses. About 20 years ago there were a lot of businesses, particularly in the technology industry, that were just getting started. Those companies have now have become large enough that they are able to look at new markets to expand into.

There are also family businesses that were started years ago by people who immigrated to B.C. from the Pacific Rim and are turning it over to their children, and they are looking at the U.S. market. As they look to expand, they look at Whatcom County because it's so close.

What problems or challenges do you see?

What I see being hurt in the coming years is the local tourism and hospitality industries, unless there are changes to the border. We need something consistent at the border that can be easily obtained by travelers, such as a passport-lite document.

Business people are pragmatic; they'll do whatever is needed to make sure they can get across the border. But for a Canadian who wants to go skiing at Mount Baker or a Whatcom County resident who wants to eat dinner at White Rock, getting hung up at the border is a problem that they'll tell five other friends about.

How about for businesses trying to enter the U.S. market?

The biggest problem I see for these businesses is dealing with the size of the U.S. market. The key for many of these businesses is to do niche marketing - they probably won't do well selling to the Wal-Marts, but they can do better with mid-size companies that are looking for unique products.

If they can come down here and get their product in a store like Hardware Sales or Yeager's, it's a good starting point.

They also have the advantage of working with the business. . the owner can drive down here to deal with any problems.

What impact has the strong Canadian dollar had?

When the Canadian dollar was weak, Canadian businesses wanted to sell here for the American dollar. With the strong Canadian dollar, companies are sharpening their pencils and figuring out ways to outsource more to keep their currency.

When we first started, many Canadian companies tried to take advantage of the U.S. dollar and ride that strength.

Today Canadian companies are more apt to establish themselves when they are ready to expand into the U.S. market and not worry as much about the currency.

One advantage for the companies is they can buy real estate at a discount, so you're seeing more investment in Whatcom County.

What should Whatcom County be doing to further encourage business investment from British Columbia?

Whatcom County should think of itself as an incubator county. That's the way this area should be marketed.

There are already many small companies in this area that are primed for growth, and we should encourage it. That's much easier than trying to get a large company to relocate here.

 

Reach Dave Gallagher at 715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com.