Central Trade Corridor proponents meet in Energy City

There were nine panelists with varying interests and spheres of influence, two keynote presenters who took bold looks into the near future and 60 or more delegates, many of them from North and South Dakota, as well as southern Saskatchewan. They gathered in the main conference room at the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute (SETI) in Estevan on May 18 to discuss the future of an international trade corridor that includes Mexico, six American states, most of Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta. They talked about a corridor that will embrace technology that most business buyers and sellers and the general public have yet to fully comprehend. The talk was futuristic in nature, but very real in terms of potential applications as the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA) conducted this futuristic look on a local educational campus. 

Steve Pedersen, former president of the CNATCA, served as co-host for the idea exchanges along with Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig. 

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Pedersen, a former University of Minot professor, who has been at the helm of the Central North American Trade Corridor (CNATC) concept since its inception over 25 years ago, is a firm believer in reducing trade barriers and making life easier for both traders and travellers along the U.S. Highway 83 and Highways 39 and 6 in Saskatchewan, a most natural trade corridor, that links not only the U.S. to Canada but also connects to northern Mexico through Texas which is the start of the American Route 83. 

“I always struggle with various elements in helping put these conferences and summits together,” said Pedersen. But they usually turn out better than expected and the Estevan experience was no different. 

“We got the number of delegates here we expected, but did we get everybody we wanted? Well, I would have liked to have seen some government people here, some from the provincial and federal governments who are interested in international trade. We were here talking about the future, it would have been nice to have had them here,” he said. 

But the absence of political decision-makers did not deter the panelists from engaging in some spirited discussions about trade among partners with common interests heading into the next decade. 

Pedersen said CNATCA will be holding a fall summit at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., this fall, which will focus even more intently on road and rail transportation in particular while the Estevan Beyond the Borders conference dealt mainly with what will face businesses in the near future with the rapid growth of technology. Some of the concepts were somewhat head-spinning insofar as they took futuristic glances into what will probably be the new reality of trade and transportation. 

The following is a summary of presentations put forward by the panelists and guest speakers at the Estevan conference as to what the general public and businesses could expect from trade corridor participants in the near future. 

There were nine panelists with varying interests and spheres of influence, two keynote presenters who took bold looks into the near future and 60 or more delegates, many of them from North and South Dakota, as well as southern Saskatchewan. They gathered in the main conference room at the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute (SETI) in Estevan on May 18 to discuss the future of an international trade corridor that includes Mexico, six American states, most of Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta. They talked about a corridor that will embrace technology that most business buyers and sellers and the general public have yet to fully comprehend. The talk was futuristic in nature, but very real in terms of potential applications as the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA) conducted this futuristic look on a local educational campus. 

Steve Pedersen, former president of the CNATCA, served as co-host for the idea exchanges along with Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig. 

Pedersen, a former University of Minot professor, who has been at the helm of the Central North American Trade Corridor (CNATC) concept since its inception over 25 years ago, is a firm believer in reducing trade barriers and making life easier for both traders and travellers along the U.S. Highway 83 and Highways 39 and 6 in Saskatchewan, a most natural trade corridor, that links not only the U.S. to Canada but also connects to northern Mexico through Texas which is the start of the American Route 83. 

“I always struggle with various elements in helping put these conferences and summits together,” said Pedersen. But they usually turn out better than expected and the Estevan experience was no different. 

“We got the number of delegates here we expected, but did we get everybody we wanted? Well, I would have liked to have seen some government people here, some from the provincial and federal governments who are interested in international trade. We were here talking about the future, it would have been nice to have had them here,” he said. 

But the absence of political decision-makers did not deter the panelists from engaging in some spirited discussions about trade among partners with common interests heading into the next decade. 

Pedersen said CNATCA will be holding a fall summit at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., this fall, which will focus even more intently on road and rail transportation in particular while the Estevan Beyond the Borders conference dealt mainly with what will face businesses in the near future with the rapid growth of technology. Some of the concepts were somewhat head-spinning insofar as they took futuristic glances into what will probably be the new reality of trade and transportation. 

The following is a summary of presentations put forward by the panelists and guest speakers at the Estevan conference as to what the general public and businesses could expect from trade corridor participants in the near future. 

Steve Pedersen (right), advisory director of CNATCA with Estevn Mayor Roy Ludwig served as co-chairmen for the conference.

Tawnya Bernsdorf, North Dakota Port Services. 

Tawnya Bernsdorf, director of public relations, North Dakota Port Services Inc.: 

Port Services in Minot is served by three, four-lane highway entry roads and two railroads and has become a distribution centre for energy and agricultural exports and imports along with aggregate and over-dimensional products.

An expansion plan to add 3,000 acres and 12,000 feet of new rail line, is underway.

The expansion plan means that infrastructural needs have already been met and zoning work completed. An executive office centre is also in the works for companies to use on a temporary basis and that would include conference rooms, as well as office spaces. 

Sinclair Harrison, past president of Hudson Bay Route Association and chairman, TransCanada Trail Committee for Sask: 

The Port of Churchill is in transformation stage. OmniTrax, the U.S. based owner of the rail line leading into the port is currently in negotiations with two First Nations buyer groups. The terminal was owned by the federal government until 1996. The rail line has been well maintained and upgraded. A political shift in Manitoba is being closely monitored with regards to the port’s future. The port features at least five months of open water access. It can often offer more shipping time than that, sometimes until the end of December, but insurers will only take on accounts to the end of October. The port does not offer container shipment services yet. The port is capable of handling and shipping well over 500,000 tonnes per season, but last season only 186,000 tonnes were shipped via this port. 

Bryan Richards, president and CEO, Global Transportation Hub, Regina: 

He noted how CNATCA has been in “on the ground game, in the trenches for a long time and still doing that work.” 

He said trucks move 90 per cent of consumer and food products. GTH offers a value-added service that water ports can’t due to its ability to expand and sort and enhance where port facilities are restricted in size and scope by the very nature of their geographic positions. Superior logistics and critical speed to market is what land-based transportation hubs offer. Facts brought out indicate that it would take 1,100, 747-sized cargo planes to haul enough cargo to port to fill just one cargo ship. He also pointed out that 75 per cent of what Saskatchewan produces, is exported and this province is the global leader in food security. He predicts a 66 per cent increase in rail volumes within four years. GTH absorbs 1,800 acres of hub activity with nine major corporations currently located at the hub west of Regina. 

Rhonda Ekstrom, vice-president, business development Global Transportation Hub: 

She focused on the diversity of trading in today’s world and how global trading is integral to Canada and the United States. “We currently have a political bromance going on, (Obama and Trudeau),” she said and Canada’s $1.4 trillion trade with the U.S. equals the entire gross domestic product of Australia. “It is the world’s largest trading partnership,” she said. “Canada exports more to the U.S. in three days than we export to India in a whole year, ($2 billion).” One in 40 jobs in Canada are related to trade between these two countries. “The hub brings these elements together and trade route connections like CNATC lead to economic growth. It’s our job to make sure businesses and government connections are there and that we can link service providers and serve as facilitator, analyst, diplomat or detective.” She said what the transportation hub does is send North Dakota and Saskatchewan products to markets where there are more than 800 million people. This comes from a geographical area where there are fewer than two million people. 

Skip Espeseth, branch manager, Cole International USA Inc.:

His business is customs brokerage and how they serve as the “middlemen for international businesses. We are licensed by governments but serve private businesses.” 

“Clearing goods between the two countries can get complicated. There are over 2,500 U.S. government agencies that might have an interest in what is being brought in and that’s just business dealings, I’m not talking about personal goods and declarations,” he said. As a result, information provided on the shipped goods is vital as is all information regarding the drivers of the trucks. He said the busiest port in Saskatchewan is located on the trade corridor at Portal, N.D., with thousands of trucks per month and “six to eight trains from Saskatchewan going through Portal every day.” 

Larry White, owner of LL-International (consultants and marketers): 

“We’re moving from the Eisenhower era of technology into the new age of technology in transportation, and our goods have to go north and south.”

White said the U.S. Highway 83 corridor is ripe for transition into use by unmanned vehicles and aerial systems. “We can open trade routes right to Hudson Bay and include the smaller towns along the way, use them for infrastructure. When automomous route funding was announced by Obama a year ago, North Dakota was first in line. But that funding now probably isn’t going to happen. We don’t want to lose the advantage of being able to move goods efficiently. Keep in mind the annual $130 billion in business with Mexico through the six American states and two Canadian provinces along the CNATC corridor. “U.S. exports 15 per cent of all its goods to Canada at $1.42 trillion and 13 per cent to Mexico; and the United States imports $2.13 trillion with 16 per cent coming from Canada and 13 per cent from Mexico.” 

White said he sees in the future, rapid (hyperloop) transit trains, capable of speeds in the hundreds of miles per hour. Some prototypes are being tested already. 

Elvira Smid, executive director, Eastern Alberta Trade Corridor: 

“Our corridor embraces 27 per cent of all of Alberta but only eight per cent of the population. It includes three trade regions,” she said. 

Smid said that collaboration is a key element to carry into the future with advanced technology leading to direct outcomes for unified approaches for marketing. The three regions incorporate interrelated websites to save time and provide efficiencies. Investment opportunities and portfolios are upgraded online, as they occur. Information is disseminated as needed, through online or print. That includes community profiles and all communities along their corridor have the capabilities to take from, or add to the portfolios through authorized contributors. This approached has earned them several provincial and national awards for promotion and marketing. They are advocates for the Ports to Plains alliance and Smid added that collaboration helps Canada and the U.S. sort through international issues and debates such as the recent Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) dispute on meat product shipments. 

Marlo Anderson, Zoovio Inc. Your Media, Digitized:

“Embrace the technology. We’ll have autonomous cars and trucks and they’ll be used to cross our 120 land ports of entry between our countries,” said the North Dakota talk show host. “We can fill the roads at 4 a.m. with autonomous trucks. You’ll have your drone pick up your pizza once it gets a signal that the pizza is ready.” 

The digital host who has interviewed several visionaries, said looming shortages among the truck driving fraternity, will speed the process toward autonomy, once the public reaches a comfort level with the prospect of driverless vehicles that will respond positively to severe weather conditions and will be acceptable at the border crossings.  

Robert Fisher, CEO, Leaf and Stone Resonance Services Ltd.: 

His company’s remote sensing technology has now been proven and accepted and is being considered as superior to even the most traditional geological exploration tools. 

The Saskatoon-based company, using resonance imaging uncovered a very rare native copper source in New Brunswick that geologists swore just wasn’t there. The find is now being valued in excess of $4.4 billion. “We’re turning our attention to Saskatchewan now, looking for oil and diamonds, and gold in Ontario,” he said. The native copper find was truly rare indeed since there are only eight mines in the world that can boast of pure native copper. The mine in New Brunswick, is the ninth. The imaging service will work in finding other elements such as gold, rare earth minerals and gas. “I risked my career on new technology,” he said. “And we tested and retested and retested and did case studies before developing a market presence. We started out by simply doing fee for service work to help confirm finds. Then we put our money where the mouth was, worked with a prospector who became an investor. We saw copper where the traditional geologists said there was no copper. We missed finding it at first with 80 surface samples, but just by a few feet. We used old technology with a good old track hoe and proved the new technology was valid. We started drilling and mining in 2015 with 42 square kilometres of claims in New Brunswick.”

Paul Gunderson, director, Dakota Precision Agriculture Center: 

Imaging technology and transportation automation will be bigger in agriculture within the next few years since it is already big, he suggested. 

“In all my years in agriculture, I never heard a producer say he didn’t have enough to do. Farmers have to be remarkably efficient to be successful,” the former professor said. 

The downside to the farming technology will be the need to train the operators. Drones will go through windshields and invade international airspace, if not handled properly. Remote-controlled or autonomous tractors, sprayers and other agricultural equipment needs to be deployed properly and legally. The CNATC will help farmers identify business opportunities on both sides of the border. Satellite receiving stations have increased from one to three now between Texas and Saskatchewan. 

“Rail hyperloops will move goods at super speeds. Prairie producers can now grow grapes for very fine wines, much to the chagrin of our friends in France, Spain, Italy and California. We never thought of having that a few years ago. Keep in mind, one tablespoon of soil (don’t call it dirt), contains more microbes than what is found in the entire world’s population. The power of soil for genetics is huge. The genetic code in corn now says we can produce up to 500 bushels per acre and wheat can be up to 470 bushels per acre if we deployed the technology we have right now.” Gunderson warned the trade corridor can also bring forth things that aren’t desirable like viruses and diseases that could affect livestock, so homework needs to be done along the way. 

Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer and co-founder Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence: 

Get prepared for automated vehicles said this former road designer and project manager. 

Twenty countries are now busy exploring this visionary project. We’ll see a good number of autonomous vehicles on our highways within five years, some have suggested and Godsmark doesn’t dispute that claim. The first autovehicle service is underway in the United Kingdom already. “The car is the most underutilized asset we have,” he said, quoting from Adam Jones of Morgan Stanley. Google is anticipating autonomous vehicles by 2018 to 2020, while Godsmark’s team suggests the tipping point will be sometime around 2026. Suncor, the mining giant in Alberta, has been using autonomous haulers since 2014. Prototype vehicles are being tested in England, China, Japan, United States and elsewhere by Volvo, Tesla, Mercedez-Benz, and that includes truck convoys using wind-drafting techniques, to provide more efficiency in hauling heavy goods. Pads for recharging and recalibrating for trains and trucks will be part of the new world order, as will sidewalk-friendly autovehicles to carry smaller goods. Overall savings will amount to about $65 billion per year as fewer passenger vehicles will be required as we learn to use them more efficiently. Road deterioration will be a factor as will weather and axle load ratio efficiencies are being computed now, Godsmark said. “And parking will certainly get easier,” he said. 


 

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