The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has committed to joining a chorus of concern over the closure of the U.S-Canada border to nonessential travel and the effect it is having on business and life in northern Minnesota.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon told the Grand Forks Herald he will, on behalf of the organization, highlight the issue during an upcoming meeting with leaders in Washington, D.C. According to its website, the organization represents more than 6,300 companies and a half-million employees throughout Minnesota.
“We do an annual trip to D.C. – this year we’re doing it in June, virtually. This is something we should raise with our delegation to get them supportive of working in a bilateral way to open the border,” Loon said during a discussion with the Herald’s editorial board, which has editorialized that leaders must work to find solutions to the ongoing issue.
When asked to clarify if his comment constituted a commitment to do so, Loon replied affirmatively.
“Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Chamber," he answered, "we will definitely bring this up with our delegation."
The entire border between the United States and Canada has been closed since March 2020, with only essential travelers allowed to cross. While it has hindered business throughout northern Minnesota and North Dakota, the continued closure also is adversely affecting the everyday lives of residents in the region, and especially those who reside in the Northwest Angle.
Since those U.S. residents are surrounded by Canadian land and the waters of massive Lake of the Woods, they must travel through Canada to get to and from their homes by road. Recent Canadian restrictions have made it difficult to do so, prompting concern from federal delegates and others.
U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, a pair of Minnesota Republicans, hosted a meeting on the issue April 6 in International Falls, and U.S. Rep. Tina Smith, D-Minn., wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of State, asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken to get involved.
On April 9, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also sent a letter – hers going to the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security – asking for Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to work with the Canadian government to ease border restrictions. Klobuchar wrote that “the need for drastic restrictions on travel should give way to common-sense solutions that will allow for residents, workers and visitors to the Angle to access their homes, places of work, and U.S.-based cabins and rooms, while maintaining the necessary precautions during the pandemic.”
And last week, Fischbach – in an op-ed published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune – said “Americans on the northern border are in crisis.”
Her conclusion: “This is going to require a bilateral solution at the highest levels, but that will not happen until the Biden administration acknowledges the problem. So far, there has been resounding silence.”
Border-crossing issues affecting the Northwest Angle notwithstanding, Loon, of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is vital to Minnesota’s economy. He said Canada is “the most important of all of our trading relationships, and having open borders is a key ingredient to that.” According to Loon, it's not limited to goods and services, but also people and tourism.
In Grand Forks, local Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry Wilfahrt said many retailers traditionally see 20% of their sales come from Canadian shoppers, “and our hospitality industry is much larger than that.” The local airport relies heavily on Canadians, too, he noted. The border closure is among his organization’s chief concerns in 2021.
“We are watching the border (closure) very closely,” Wilfahrt said.