Special Report: The Canadian Connection | Part Two

FOX 21's Brett Scott Speaks with Local Tourism Officials and Business Owners on Canadian Cash Flow in the Northland

TWO HARBORS, Minn. – Nearly fourteen million Canadians call the Province of Ontario home. Located directly north of Minnesota, thousands of our northern neighbors travel south each year.

“A lot of them are on their way to Mall of America, and we are one of their major stops,” said Anna Klobuchar with Visit Cook County.

Many miles separate the Canadian border from the biggest mall in our country. Klobuchar says they see Canadian traffic almost daily when their tourism office is open; coming for dinner and shows.

“We don’t have the industry like most other counties do. We rely on our tourism dollars to really keep us economically sustained,” said Klobuchar.

It’s what gives her passion for her position at Visit Cook County.

“The Canadians that come through are a large part of what makes my job so fun,” said Klobuchar.

Cent-by-cent, it all adds up. In 2015, nearly 2.6 million visitors came down to Minnesota, investing over $233 million dollars into the local economy.

“It’s such a naturally beautiful area, that that alone drives them,” said Klobuchar.

“We see the license plates in the parking lot,” said Lee Radzak, Site Manager at Split Rock Lighthouse. “Like a lot of places, they think they have seen it once and then we don’t see them for a while again.”

Split Rock Lighthouse continuously keeps the light on when marketing, thinking of new strategies for to keep Canadians coming back.

“We work with Ontario tourism, and are pretty active with Thunder Bay tourism,” said Radzak.

Connection countries, even when when longer trips to the south may not be as cost effective.

“A good example would be the Edmund Fitzgerald beacon lighting on November 10, when we see people from all over the country show up,” said Radzak.

Breathtaking beauty, bringing in over 150,000 visitors to Splitrock Lighthouse annually. Many of them, are from Canada.

“They are like our neighbors,” said Carl Ehlenz, Owner of Betty’s Pies.

Beginning back in 1957, Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors is still proving to be a popular pit stop.

“Whether it’s apple, caramel apple, blueberry, they love to stop at Betty’s,” said Ehlenz.

Tasty temptations, bringing in a lot of sales to the iconic restaurant along Highway 61. At Betty’s Pies, an even exchange rate is honored.

“There’s only one way to get here on Highway 61—that helps a lot.” Because in a land of 10,000 lakes, there’s bound to be tens of thousands of tourists as well.

“One couple, they always, on the way down, they’ll reserve a blueberry pie, have a couple slices, then on the way back they’ll pick up the rest of the pie,” said Ehlenz.

Quality connections, easily created by returning Canadian customers.

“We love having them here. It’s kind of a halfway stop for them,” said Ehlenz.

But from the Two Harbors area, trips typically continue onward.

“Duluth will always be a market particularly for Thunder Bay folks. We’re the first major metro area coming south,” said Jon Driscoll, General Manager at Pier B Resort in Duluth.

Driscoll is enjoying his job at the brand new facility. However, travelers from the north are currently dealing with unfavorable exchange rates.

“In the summer things are easier than they are in the fall and winter,” said Driscoll.

In 2015, Minnesota saw a nearly 20 percent decrease in Canadian visitors. Right now, the Canadian dollar is still worth more than currency in the United States.

“We have to create enticing offers to make them come down and visit our stores and shops,” said Driscoll. “We use traditional marketing up there; we’ll use the newspaper and e-commerce.”

Local businesses are catering to Canadians; realizing the importance of our northern neighbors.

“We’re offering our Canadian friends the same exact deal we offer to everybody else which is a $99 dollar deal mid-week special,” said Driscoll.

“They really enjoy the amenities that we have. A lot of them enjoy the arts; they love the fact that it’s a quaint little harbor town,” said Klobuchar.

Taking advantage of consumer benefits along the North Shore. Many businesses say longer trips are on the decline. Day trips, remain in high demand.

“Whenever we have any of our festivals or events they come down for the day,” said Klobuchar.

A Canadian connection that most likely will never go away, even though exchange rates might rattle local economies.

“I think they [Canadians] are really good for all of the businesses on the North Shore, and including Duluth too,” said Ehlenz.

Big bucks will continue to be spent, flowing in from our neighbors to the north.

“We’re always glad to see the Canadians,” said Radzak.

In a recent study conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Minnesota Duluth throughout 2016, Canada was directly invested in 20 businesses, employing 3,273 Canadian workers just in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.

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