Last week my colleague started a Facebook page promoting the virtues and challenges of living and working a cross-border life. She called it Business Sans Frontières in homage to Médecins Sans Frontières.
This morning I had the opportunity to see that cross-border collaboration working in person. I attended the Newry/Dundalk Business Club monthly breakfast and had the chance to network with business owners and business leaders from both sides of the border.
The format is surprisingly simple but very effective. The President introduces a theme for the day, today was exploiting the opportunities that being a border region gives business people. Next each person speaks for a minute about what they do and what an ideal business referral to them would be. Then a guest speaker talks about something topical for 15-minutes. And the rest is breakfast and networking.
Which brings me to the fine breakfast and most excellent sausages. Being an ex-pat Brit living in the US I do miss the Great British Banger. It is not that the British Banger is superior to its American cousins: it is that the banger holds memories and associations that make me feel good. Whenever I come to the UK and Ireland I make sure Bangers-and-Mash form at least one meal in my trip.
Little did I know, until today, that there is banger-envy and banger-discrimination in these border towns.
There are some north of the border that think the sausages in the south are the most succulent and aromatic and tasty in the world. And they will travel many miles (usually less than 20) to treat themselves to their taste buds’ desire. Of course there are those who live south of the border who covet the fine ingredients, superior texture and distinctive sizzle that sausages from the north have. They will travel many kilometers (usually less than 30) to secure their next sausage fix.
And then there are those who think that earning money in one town and spending it in another is disloyal … especially if that town, a few miles/kilometers away, is in another country. These are the sausage-discriminators. Why, they ask, would I spend my hard earned pounds/euros supporting the other economy? Why wouldn’t I support my own economy? While this patriotic gesture seems laudable it misses the whole advantage of living in a border region where the border’s are open and free.
I am going to spend my money where I get the most benefit to me. According to Pumps.ie the average price for gas (petrol) in Dundalk is €1.269 per liter ($6.58 per US gallon). While on the other side of the border in Newry, according to Petrolprices.com, gas (petrol) is £1.214 per liter ($7.42 per US gallon). Almost a dollar difference. Would you drive 10 miles/kilometers to save a dollar a gallon on gas (petrol)? Would you drive 20? 30? At some point it no longer becomes viable. [And, by the way, this makes the $3.00 we pay look very cheap.]
If you are competing in this market you can be at a huge advantage, and you should grasp it. You can be at a huge disadvantage too.
So you have to find ways of making your product, service, facility more attractive to drive (literally) your customers across the border. In the north some companies offer euro:pound parity making a southerner’s euro worth 18% more. Some skilled butchers simply make their sausage products worth the drive (even on more expensive fuel).
The point about the border is that it is a competitive opportunity. Competition creates markets that are bigger and more active and everyone prospers. Exercise your economic power in your local geography, ignore the lines drawn on the maps by legislators in far off cities, and create vibrant local businesses serving the whole community. You have a unique advantage over your neighbors in your own country and you have so much more to gain personally, economically working with your neighbors in the neighboring one.