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Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

Upside Down Under: Welcome back to North Dakota…

Marvin Baker
 May 15, 2022
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In the past month, there have been a lot of vehicles with Saskatchewan and Manitoba license plates milling around Minot and on U.S. Highway 52. Covid restrictions were lifted April 1 in Canada which made it much easier for Canadians to travel across the border.

It’s been a long time coming and Dakota Square Mall in Minot recognized it too with large banners that say “Welcome Back Canadians.”

For at least 32 years that I’m aware of, Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo have all been recipients of the Canadian dollar whether it’s people just traveling through getting a meal and a tank of gas, or maybe one of those communities is a shopping destination or they’re in town for sporting events.

There are other reasons as well, but the biggest thing is the shopping. Prices, or rather taxation is less in the United States so most people who live close to the border make that trek to a North Dakota city to get some of their shopping done.

Last Sunday in the Menards parking lot in Minot is a good example of the previous statement. Roughly 30 percent of the vehicles in that parking lot at that particular time; noon, had Canadian license plates which were mostly Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but with a few Alberta plates as well.

Most of us who live on the northern tier are familiar with the prairie provincial license plates. During the pandemic, over-the-road trucks continued to move freight from western Canada to the east and many of those drivers ran their routes through North Dakota. It included a sharp increase in trucks from British Columbia.

And more and more, when you drive through Minot or along the approximate 90 miles from the border at Portal to Minot on U.S. 52, trucks with Ontario and Quebec license plates are becoming more frequent.

But it’s the shopping that is important to Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo, and to a lesser extent, border communities like Crosby, Bottineau, Kenmare, Cando and Langdon. It’s also evident in other communities like Plentywood, Glasgow and Great Falls, Mont., and Roseau and Warroad, Minn.

Why should we care? Because in some cases the Canadian dollar will boost the local economy by 10 percent or more. That’s revenue that for the past two years wasn’t there because of the pandemic. The strongest presence of the Canadian dollar is in Grand Forks.

That city has always been a favorite destination for residents of southern Manitoba and if you think about it, Winnipeg, a city with nearly 800,000 people, is close enough to Grand Forks for a day trip. Above Minot is Regina, which is a large city in its own right, but has considerably less population than Winnipeg at about 200,000. In addition rural Saskatchewan is more sparsely populated than rural Manitoba so the boost to the Minot economy will almost always be less than that of Grand Forks, simply because of population.

There are other things we can do as well to increase Canadian traffic along our northern tier. Some businesses will accept the Canadian dollar at par with the U.S. dollar, while other establishments provide other incentives like special rates at hotels as well as drink and meals specials.

Another big draw is with sports, most notably hockey. With UND having a Division I hockey program and  a college program at Minot State University as well as the Minot Minotarous, there is a need for numerous Canadian players. A lot of times, that brings their parents to Grand Forks or Minot to watch their kids play for their respective teams.

There are also numerous Canadian coaches on these North Dakota teams and they have their support groups as well.

Then, there are college students. It fluctuates year to year, but UND usually has about 450 Canadian students on campus, Minot State has about 200 and Williston State College and Dakota College at Bottineau have several students from the Canadian side. Some are here on hockey, baseball or football scholarships while other enjoy a reciprocity, meaning they pay the same fees for their college experience as North Dakota students.

It’s a win-win for North Dakota and for those who want to spend their loonies in North Dakota. But it’s doubtful we’ll get back to a time like 1990 and 1991 when the Canadian dollar was fueling 30 percent of Fargo’s economy. When the federal government’s goods and services tax (the GST) was imposed on Canadian consumers, it was said that 90 percent of the population of Winnipeg visited Fargo at one time or another during those two years and made purchases.

These days it’s difficult to pin down the strength of the Canadian dollar in North Dakota because everyone uses credit cards now. But the hospitality industry is aware and is taking advantage of a sharp uptick in visits by Canadians from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

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