BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — This weekend will mark a full year since the U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel and the numbers representing the economic impact on Western New York are startling.
"The loss of Canadian business just in Erie County alone is somewhere between $665-855 million on an annualized basis,"says Dottie Gallagher, President and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. "It could be as much as a billion dollars. This is a tremendous economic impact on our region."
The tourism industry in Western New York has lost 20,000 jobs during the pandemic and Gallagher says the restrictions on Canadian visitors clearly play a role. "Everything from people who come down for Sabres and Bills game, to Canadians that shop here and buy gas here."
The Buffalo Niagara International Airport also felt the impact. According to the NFTA around 30 percent of travelers normally at the airport are from Canada. The total number of daily passengers over the last year is down around 80 percent, with the latest aviation board report showing operating revenues that are down 48.2 percent year to year.
"We know we have a very integrated economy", said Gallagher.
The closure of the border has impacted more that just the economy. Family and loved ones have been unable to see each other. Property owners who need to cross have been frustrated.
"The difficulties to get over are just awful", says Shaunalee Derkson. Derkson is a Canadian citizen who lives in Ontario and owns a lake house outside of Lyndonville. Derkson says the continued restrictions may force her to sell the home she has owned for 8 years.
"I spend money in that town. I love my neighbors, I love the community. I do everything locally there because I love it so much. I am devastated that I'm going to end up selling it."
But Congressman Brian Higgins (N.Y.-26) believes help is on the way. "We have been told by our leaders that when we get vaccines and when we get them administered we will be able to get back to a sense of normalcy. I believe the U.S.-Canadian border should be open by July 4th of this year."
Congressman Higgins believes new dialogue between the countries and the promise by the United States to send vaccines to Canada should make a difference.
"My job is to push them to engage in constructive dialogue towards the goal of a safe and successful opening at the U.S.-Canada border," added Higgins.
Gallagher hopes the goal of a July 4th re-opening is achievable.
"It's really the heart and soul of our region and who we are. Very integrated b-national economy that we have friends on both sides of the border. Like anything else. We want to see our friends."