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Closing hurts interests on both sides of the border

We were shocked and — diplomatically expressed — "deeply disappointed" at last week's announcement that the Canadian government will be closing its consulate in Buffalo in August. The consulate has been a reliable and essential partner for employers and individuals in our region for cross-border commerce, trade, tourism, education and recreation for more than 40 years; it has been regularly utilized by our members and staff.

From every perspective we've considered, the closing of the consulate makes zero sense, and the timing couldn't be more bewildering.

Collaborative efforts are strengthening to a level never before seen through border policy reform, business-to-business commerce growth and joint planning. The impacts of these efforts are felt nowhere more clearly and completely than in the CanAm border regions — and ours, in particular.

And while the Buffalo consulate has taken a leadership role on both sides of the border on such "big picture" issues, the direct assistance its staff lends to individual cross-border business relationships has been equally valuable. Elimination of the office leaves a gaping hole in Buffalo Niagara's economic development delivery system. So, both from a policy and economics standpoint (as we, "customers" of the consulate, see it), this move to close is a very bad decision.

Moreover, the way the closing was communicated was at least as disappointing as the closing itself, with a "leak" to the Canadian media that may actually have expedited the closing announcement while we worked to rally stakeholders and elected officials.

The consulate's 70-plus employees learned their fate as we did — when the first media stories emerged. Subsequently, they received an official e-mail thanking them for their service. To say they were blind-sided would be an understatement. Making matters worse, the U.S. citizens employed at the consulate are not entitled to unemployment benefits, as Canada has not been required to pay into the U.S. unemployment insurance system.

Despite all of this, we have to move on, because the CanAm opportunities remain so important. Thus, we will spend extended and focused time over the next weeks working with the Buffalo consulate to evaluate its current menu of services and determine how the partnership and its economic development partners can fill the voids left by the closing. As soon as the consulate's leadership has finished attending to its staff, we will begin that dialogue.
We, on this side of the border, are no stranger to cutbacks. But we also understand the importance of strategic investment.

Closing the consulate at a pivotal time, and in a pivotal location, is a huge mistake, and our region — on both sides of the border — will suffer as a direct result.?

Andrew J. Rudnick is president & CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.