BNE looks to bring more Canadian biz to region

November 14, 2012 Updated Nov 14, 2012 at 9:06 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink

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November 14, 2012 Updated Nov 14, 2012 at 9:06 AM EDT

The Buffalo Niagara Enterprise has retained a top level Canadian business consultant to assist with its outreach and marketing efforts north of the border.

Lee Meister, president of Markham, Ont.-based Austra Management and the former head of Empire State Development Corp.'s Montreal and Toronto offices, has been hired by BNE as its chief Canadian representative. Meister is on a one-year contract that pays $75,000 with half of his fee being paid by a grant from National Grid.

"We view Lee as an extension of our business development and marketing team," said Tom Kucharski, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise president and chief executive officer.

Meister said his focus will be a section of Ontario running from Toronto to Ottawa to London and also into Quebec, mainly the Montreal market. In that area, Meister estimates there are more than 150,000 businesses.

That is also an area of Canada where firms are likely to look to the U.S. as an expansion market.

"Probably 80 percent of the exports come from this area," Meister said. "There are always new kids on the block, looking to expand in the U.S. Buffalo was a good sell 20 years ago and it remains a good sell today."

Thanks to his long tenure with Empire State Development Corp., Meister already had a close working relationship with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. The state closed its development offices in Montreal and Toronto, as well as ones in other global markets, earlier this year and that opened the door for Meister and the BNE to craft their new partnership.

"In Canada, it is widely known that the Buffalo Niagara region is very serious about attracting firms," Meister said. "To me, that was very attractive. If you are going to play hockey, don't you want to play on a winning team whose goal is to win the Stanley Cup?"

In recent years, the region has landed a number of Canadian firms including Welded Tube Co., who is in the early stage of developing a steel-making plant in Lackawanna. Meister, through his ESD role and the BNE worked very closely on the Welded Tube project.

The Buffalo Niagara region has a lot of positives that Meister said he can promote to Canadian firms beginning with its proximity to the greater Toronto market. Other assets include the region's strong work force and gateway status.

For many companies, to do business in the U.S., they need an American address and presence. Buffalo's proximity to Toronto plays well into that need.

And, not to be taken lightly is the familiarity the Buffalo Niagara region has with southern Ontario and vice versa.

"You know us and they know you," Meister said.

One of the first things the BNE and Meister will be working on together is a Nov. 28 seminar, set for Oakville, that is being marketed to Canadian firms on cross-border strategies. The seminar will help explain the process that Canadian firms have to go through to open a U.S. operation. Representatives from Phillips Lytle LLP, Freed Maxick CPAs and HSBC Bank USA will also take part in the day-long seminar.

The session should help ease company's concerns about opening a U.S. operation, Meister said.

"We want to give them a check list so it isn't so daunting," Meister said.

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