The idea for a "speed meeting," not to be confused with "speed dating," came about during an interactive roundtable discussion at the world headquarters ofComputer Aid on Ridgeview Drive in South Whitehall on Wednesday.
Canadian General Consul John Prato was U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent's guest at the event when the idea for a matchmaking meeting between about 75 small-to-mid-size businesses and six large Canadian oil sands companies was discussed.
Prato was in Pennsylvania touring businesses that have ties to Canada with Dent, R-15th. They were scheduled to visit Mancor in Allentown later in the day.
Prato said he initiated a similar "speed meeting" in New Jersey and has plans for two more - one in New York and another in Connecticut.
"We want to roll it out here as well," Prato said. "In New Jersey, I told the oil sands companies I didn't want their CEOs, I wanted the person who did procurement."
He said results have been positive and one New Jersey company has since expanded into Canada. Oil sands are a type of petroleum deposit found in loose sand, clay and water. It is found in great quantity in Canada and requires extensive refinement that is known to produce high levels of greenhouse gases.
Prato said American interests currently own 50 percent of Canadian oil sands, Canada owns 30 percent and other countries own the rest - with Asia "coming up fast."
Goodwill also abounded during the roundtable as both Prato and Dent reviewed the relationship between Canada and the U.S.
"Canada is our largest trade partner by far," Dent said. "315,000 jobs in Pennsylvania are tied to Canadian trade - we've never had an ally better than Canada."
The U.S./Canadian trade relationship is worth $680 billion annually and Prato said 10 million trucks cross the Canadian border annually and 400,000 people cross daily.
"I love your country," Prato said. "We will need your capital and business excellence."
He praised Pennsylvania for welcoming Canadian businesses and its strong pool of skilled workers, environmentalists and engineers.
"I'd like to see more trade between Canada and Pennsylvania," Prato said. "Canada should be viewed as low-hanging fruit - people talk about doing business with Asia and Brazil but you’ve got low-hanging fruit within a half a day driving distance."
Dent closed the discussion by saying, "I think it's clear, Canada is open for business."
The roundtable was organized by The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. Some of the business leaders in attendance included Don Cunningham, Tony Iannelli, Michelle Griffin Young, Gregg Feinberg, Steve Patterson, Dorota Gasienica-Kozak, Anne Baum, Buddy Lesavoy, Don Bernhard, Barry Fisher, Cindy Fairbanks, Laura McLain and Laura Long.