It’s an opportunity that comes around just once every 12 years, and Quebec, perhaps more than some provinces or states, knows how to make the most of it.
From June 2-4, the Southeast U.S.-Canadian Provinces Alliance annual conference will land in Montreal, where it originally began thanks largely to a commitment by the leaders of the province and the state of Georgia way back in 2007:
The event brings together companies from six states and six provinces, usually around a central theme or industry that resonates in the host location.
Coming off last year’s aerospace theme in Mobile, Ala., home to a massive Airbus plant, Quebec will highlight initiatives in the realm of “smart mobility,” with 10 so-called “anchor companies” including transportation leaders like Bombardier (both its plane and train divisions) and Aeroports de Montreal, as well as the transit agencies of Laval and Longueuil, suburbs of Montreal that are offering cross-border procurement opportunities that aren’t always easy to navigate for mid-sized companies.
Michelin North America is also participating, and companies that attend SEUS/CP qualify for a discounted rate on the tire maker’s Movin’On Summit, which a French newspaper called the the “Davos of mobility.”
These firms will join Hydro-Quebec, PMG Technologies, Groupe Robert and other entities in matchmaking meetings with the small and medium-sized companies who are to make up the bulk of the attendees. The hope is to showcase opportunities for both sides to integrate better into North American supply chains. Last year’s event included 223 delegates, 70 companies and 600 reported business-to-business meetings.
“The way this alliance is doing things is unique in North America,” said Donald Leblanc, the Quebec government’s delegate in Atlanta, where it has operated an office since 1978. “You’ll find a lot of other state and provincial groupings, but not one that does so much in terms of connections between businesspeople.”
The conference is regional in nature, but Quebec will get a chance to showcase its own charms, including its strength in artificial intelligence.
A panel discussion on the final day of the summit will include a “view from Montreal” — a major research hub — on the intersection of AI and mobility. That follows a full day of business meetings peppered with panels on investing in smart-mobility projects and how small and medium-sized companies can benefit from the latest supply-chain technologies. Georgia Ports Authority economic development manager Stacy Watson is scheduled to speak on that panel, which is organized in part by Georgia Tech professor Benoit Montreuil, a Quebec native who has been active in connecting companies from the two locales.
Quebec is also focused on other sectors that complement Georgia, like electric vehicles. The province is home to Lion Electric Co., which used the Technology and Maintenance Council’s meeting in Atlanta this year to unveil an all-electric urban delivery truck. The company recently announced the first fully electric school bus, which it’s marketing to districts around the U.S.
Quebec has government policies aimed geared toward boosting the transport sector, from backing the use of aluminum (a key raw-material export) in the auto sector, to bolstering the province’s many automotive research centers covering manufacturing, battery materials and energy storage, optical solutions and deep learning. Like Georgia, aerospace is Quebec’s top export category.
Mr. Leblanc said the province is also using the conference as a way to deepen ties with the Southeast U.S., where it has less connectivity than other regions of the country.
“We don’t want to just build on the comfort of our success; we wanted to bring new people working together, so that’s really what’s behind that: creating new networks, new connections and new real business opportunities on both sides.”
A delegation from Cobb Chamber of Commerce, for instance, is said to be planning to stay over to spend some time in Quebec City, the provincial capital, to talk about future industry collaboration. (Cobb County is focusing heavily on Canada as it formulates a new international strategy.)
Beyond smart mobility, the Quebec-Southeast relationship has room to grow and has continued to show its vitality even amid a tense trade climate with the U.S., Mr. Leblanc said.
Quebec’s $10 billion in bilateral trade with the Southeast was an increase of 16 percent last year as the strong economic environment has overcome the potential drag from tariffs. Even heavily tariffed products like softwood lumber have seen strong demand as the construction sector grows.
In Georgia, 44 Quebec subsidiaries employ about 6,000 people in 449 facilities, while 48 Georgia companies including WestRock, Genuine Parts Co., United Parcel Service Inc., Blue Bird and Axiall Corp. employ more than 8,000 people in Quebec. Trade between the state and province stands at $2 billion.
Mr. Leblanc says more exploration is needed to see how Quebec’s strong animation and production capabilities can complement Georgia’s film, video game and music sector. Judged by number of feature films, Georgia is the second largest filming destination in the world after Canada.
The Quebec office has expanded in recent years and now includes staffers focused on future-facing sectors like life sciences, IT and green technology, as well as traditional industries like manufacturing and aerospace. Most of the office’s work focuses on commercial affairs.
Mr. Leblanc received a shoutout at Global Atlanta’s recent Consular Conversation with Canadian Consul General Nadia Theodore, who said the SEUS/CP event shows how most of the heavier work of the commercial relationship happens outside of Washington and Ottawa. That’s vital now more than ever, she said.
“I don’t think we could have imagined the importance of having solid relationships at the sub-federal level. In my view, that is what will ensure our relationship that is too big to fail, never fails,” Ms. Theodore said.
To learn more about the Quebec office in Atlanta visit http://www.international.gouv.qc.ca/en/atlanta.
To see the full list of anchor companies or sign up for the SEUS/CP conference in Montreal June 2-4, visit http://seuscp.com/index-en.html.