On the prowl for Canadian firms for upstate New York

Francis (Gus) Lapham has been called a ``company snatcher.'' He's president of Clinton County Area Development Corporation, in the northeast corner of New York State. Mr. Lapham is often prowling in nearby Montreal or Quebec City trying to lure Canadian companies to his industrial park or other sites in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He's not aiming for the entire companies, just branches or offices of ones ``interested in getting a foothold in the American market.''

So far, he boasts, 42 have been enticed across the border, netting an investment of more than US$50 million and creating perhaps 1,500 jobs.

That's small potatoes compared with some Canadian investments in the US. For example, Campeau Corporation, a Toronto developer, paid $3.4 billion for Allied Stores Corporation last year.

In many cities in the United States, some officials from Canadian consulates and provincial offices are on the hunt for investments to bring home. They make the rounds of companies on Route 128 near Boston, in Silicon Valley in California, or in less glamorous industrial locations, pointing out the attractions of the Canadian economy.

Investment across the Canadian-American border is booming - though it's not likely that ``company snatchers'' have much to do with it.

Mr. Lapham says his role is merely ``hand-holding'' for the Canadian companies, helping them with sites, financing, personnel recruiting, and other aspects of setting up new operations.

Major companies need less such hand-holding. Canada's Northern Telecom, for instance, has some 21,000 employees in the US, as many as it has in Canada. The Toronto-headquartered Thomson newspaper chain has 96 papers in the US, and last year paid $250 million for an Ohio-based math textbook publishing company. Toronto's Peoples Jewellers Ltd. bought Zale Corporation of Irving, Texas, with its 300 jewelry stores.

Major Canadian entrepreneurs, including the Belzberg brothers of Vancouver, British Columbia, have played the ``greenmail'' game in the US with considerable success. Others, such as the Reichmann Brothers, have invested heavily in American real estate, including the $1.5 billion World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, now nearing completion. Indeed, their Olympia & York Developments Ltd. is ranked as the world's largest real estate empire.

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