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Economic casualties expected in attack fallout (10/01)

By Ken Sitter Though somewhat distant geographically from New York and Washington, Northern Ontario businesses felt the commercial and economics tremors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
By Ken Sitter

Though somewhat distant geographically from New York and Washington, Northern Ontario businesses felt the commercial and economics tremors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., and some are waiting to see the effects of any economic aftershocks.

All the effects of the attacks "will be felt for a long time and in ways people haven't realized yet," says Brent Ryan, general manager of Laidlaw Carriers Inc. in North Bay.

There will be problems to which many businesses will have to adjust, Ryan says. As a business owner, you may find "you're not getting your money as fast any more. You're not getting your cash flow," he says.

Jim Pretchuk, branch manger of Consolidated FastFrate in Thunder Bay, agreed the attack has created some uncertainty in an already weakening economy.

As for the shorter-term problems created by the crisis, the trucking industry is already getting back to normalcy and adjusting to necessary changes. Both companies reported border delays in the eight- to 15-hour range for most international shipments, and continued efforts to avoid the harder-hit border crossings, such as Windsor.

Even two weeks following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, "it has been a lot of wait and wait and wait," Pretchuk says, though the bottleneck is easing.

Ryan says efforts to cut red tape at the border, a long-time demand of the North American trucking industry, may become more of a focus now as enhanced security measures slow vital, just-in-time shipments.

The Ontario Trucking Association estimates 80 per cent of Ontario's trade with the U.S. is hauled in trucks, and that a truck crosses the U.S.- Canada border every two seconds.

Customers, both shippers and receivers, have been understanding and accepted that business is going to be different for a time, a spokesperson with the Ontario Trucking Association says.

"No one's disagreeing with it (security measures)," says Pretchuk, adding his company is hauling a lot of paper to the United States.

Sudbury News Services, which distributes magazines and some newspapers in Northeastern Ontario, reported minor delays in receiving some of those newspapers and magazines from the U.S.

The tragedy prompted one other minor problem, says Carey Striemer, the warehouse manager. Sudbury News Services experienced a higher than usual demand for some publications as Canadians hungered for news on the tragedy from an American perspective.

Cancellations, postponements and calls for help from stranded travellers were the order of business for travel agents in the confusing days after Sept. 11, several companies reported.

Uniglobe Solomon Travel in Sault Ste. Marie opened its doors for business only two weeks before the attacks, and the unexpected loss of business has "been one more hurdle we've had to face," says Susan Solomon.

Once the public regains a measure of confidence, they'll come back, says Solomon, whose phone started to ring with new business by the end of the week after the attack.

How quickly business will recover is "a hard question to handle," she adds. "Give it a couple of weeks and we'll have an answer."

Bearskin Airlines flies to 38 destinations, mostly in Ontario and many in Northern Ontario, using smaller aircraft.
But they have not been immune to the after effects of the tragedy, says Ron Hell, the airline’s director of sales and marketing.

Business "has been a little bit depressed" since the three-day shutdown of North American air space, ordered after the attacks, but business is slowly returning, Hell says.

"Each day without incident, more and more people are feeling more confident," Hell says. "How long it will take for them (most people) to feel confident isn't something I'd hazard a guess on."

The closing of air travel had no noticeable impact on car rentals in the region, other than an increase in one-way vehicle rentals, a spokesman for National Car Rental in Timmins says.

The company, with five locations in the north and a sixth outlet it services, had to collect between 25 and 30 more vehicles than usual in the days after the Sept. 11 tragedy, Glen Thom says.

Some of the customers headed west, while others headed to Toronto, possibly on return trips, Thom says. The demand for one-way rentals, however, did not affect operations, he adds.

John Cutsey, owner of Cutsey Business Systems and a frequent business traveller to the U.S., found himself held over in Phoenix for five days after what was to be a one-hour presentation on behalf of a client.

"Our business in the States is business as usual," said Cutsey about 10 days after the attack. None of Cutsey's clients were directly affected by the tragedy. The U.S. represents 95 per cent of the North Bay software
development and distribution company's business, and frequent travel is necessary.

Cutsey was back in the air heading from Toronto to New York six days after the attack on a flight with only 12 other passengers, after three other flights to New York that same morning had been cancelled.

Despite deserted airplanes, airports, hotels and restaurants, the businessman says air travel today is safer than it
was before the hijackings. Security is so much tighter now that the likelihood of something happening has dropped, he says.

"We didn't know how unsafe it was before," Cutsey says, adding those problems are now finally being addressed, making travel more secure.

While the attacks will not change his or his colleagues willingness to travel, he says he envisions doing more remote demonstrations on the Internet and more teleconferencing as a result of them.

Several hotels reported cancellations and a drop in business travellers after the attack, but took a wait-and-see
attitude to potential long-term effects.