By Ian MacAlpine, Kingston Whig-Standard
Kingston officials made a trek just slightly south of the border last Thursday to Watertown, N.Y., to view its downtown and meet with their American counterparts.
Representatives of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area, Tourism Kingston and others got to tour inside and outside some of Watertown’s historic buildings during a walking tour of the downtown core.
Donna Gillespie, the chief executive officer of KEDCO, said the trip was a good way to forge new relationships with the Watertown officials.
“Our communities were more closely connected in past eras with leadership, perhaps two or three councils ago,” she said.
The visit was arranged by Watertown officials through Coun. Laura Turner.
“This was a great opportunity for me to meet with economic development colleagues on the other side of the border as well as business owners and city staff,” Gillespie said.
Taking part in the tour from Kingston included Andrew Bacchus of KEDCO, Rob Kawamoto of Tourism Kingston, Martin Sherris of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, Danika Lochead of the Kingston Arts Council, Rob Tamblyn of the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area, and St. Lawrence College’s John Conrad of innovation and business engagement and Robin Hicks, dean of applied science. David Hineman of Queen’s University’s office of partnership and innovation phoned in during the tour.
Gillespie said in an interview that the Watertown people reached out to Kingston officials after they heard about the Kingston-Syracuse Pathway Initiative.
“Kingston and Syracuse are aligned in a number of ways,” she said. “Watertown jumped in and wanted to reforge relationships as well.”
Sheila Barney-Pullus was one of the Watertown organizers of the trip and host for the day.
“I must say that we had such an enthusiastic group from both sides of the border,” she wrote in an email to the Whig-Standard.
Barney-Pullus runs a charitable organization in Watertown, Station WVBS, which since 2009 works to “enrich the lives of others affected by adverse conditions.”
“With about 30 people present, the two groups talked about how they can work on attracting Canadians to Watertown and U.S. residents to Kingston, how Watertown can improve its arts scene and how college students from the two cities can get internships across the border.”
Also discussed, Barney-Pullus said, was education, arts and entertainment, travel and Canadian curling.
With trade and tariffs on many people’s minds in Canada and the United States, businesses on either side of the border can be competitors with each other, but Gillespie said the economic development personnel can still work together to promote co-operation.
“We don’t want our businesses to head south and a lot of that concern comes when the dollar changes, so right now there’s an advantage in many ways for manufacturers to be in Kingston,” Gillespie said. “But we also want to encourage export to the U.S., so having relationships where we can create soft landings for Canadian companies to foray into the U.S., that’s important.
“New York is a major trading partner of Ontario, so we want to make sure that relationships are in place to support our businesses and likewise I’m sure they want to do the same for their businesses.”
The walking tour included trips to the Watertown Municipal building, the Flower Memorial Library, the Paddock Arcade, the North Country Arts Council’s Gallery on the Square, and the Watertown Masonic Temple, which has been purchased by private interests and is being converted into an arts hub.
“They really wanted us to tour the downtown core to see the work that’s been done investing in their heritage buildings and restorations,” Gillespie said.
Like Kingston has already done, Watertown officials want to create a better link with its downtown and the waterfront. The Black River meanders through the downtown, but most businesses along Factory Street block public access to the water.
Airport expansion was also discussed as Watertown recently completed its and Kingston’s is ongoing.
“So it was a great opportunity to see what’s happening in the region and what our neighbours south of the border are doing,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said the plan is to have Watertown officials visit Kingston in August, perhaps on Aug. 18, which has been declared friendship day between the United States and Canada and it is also the 80th anniversary of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt making a speech at Queen’s University and of the opening of the Thousand Islands Bridge, where Roosevelt and then Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King opened the bridge together.
“We’re looking at perhaps that time to invite,” Gillespie said.
She said Kingston area officials would rather work with their U.S. friends than against them.
“We’re generally stronger together.”