New Brunswick government and business representatives might put a southern drawl into their sales pitches following a conference in Savannah, Ga., this week.

They attended the first conference of the Southeastern United States – Canada Alliance (SEUS-Canada) where they discovered the size of the economic relationship between that growing American region and the Canadian province just beyond Maine.

Last year, 88 per cent, or $9.84 billion, of New Brunswick exports went to the United States, according to figures provided by the provincial government – and five per cent of that total went to Dixie.

That comes to just under half a billion dollars, which the New Brunswick delegation including Premier Shawn Graham and Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne intend to grow. They all found something that interested them.

Energy from cellulose interests the state of Georgia which, for the first time, faces an energy crunch, said Tim Curry, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy based in Saint John.

The state, he understands, produces a quarter of its electricity from four nuclear plants, has some small hydro dams, and burns a lot of coal.

“I’d hate to bet the mortgage on any opportunity that has jumped off the table just yet,” he said; however, “That might lead to opportunities.”

With trade integrating globally more and more, businesses need people need people to translate documents – so Robin Ayoub, director of sales and business development at Lexi-tech International, went to the conference, too.

This company, headquartered in Moncton, has offices in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, and employs 200 people.

The company, founded in 1988, can translate documents into and out of just about any “natural language,” Ayoub said.

“There are opportunities for translation anywhere you look “¦ because we live in a very small global village today,” he said.

Gary Stairs, chairman and chief executive officer of Red Hot Learning of Fredericton, did not wish to spill any beans this week.

However, he said that Duane Dunfield, president of Red Hot Learning, met at the conference with a representative of “a prestigious automobile manufacturer.”

Red Hot Learning, which employs 12 to 14 people, specializes in “international trade training,” said Stairs. He did not go to Georgia himself, but it made sense to have someone attend an event with that many potential clients gathered in one place.

Remsoft of Fredericton sells computer software for forest management, but its products could work in other industries, too, said Bob Huggard, who represented the company in Savannah.

“It’s absolutely a business-oriented set of meetings,” said Huggard, who intended to meet clients from Wednesday to Friday before returning home Friday night.

Other commitments prevented Rayburn Doucette, president of the Port of Belledune, from going to Georgia – but the northern New Brunswick seaport hopes to reach a “twinning” agreement with Savannah.

Belledune hopes to re-establish a regular ocean cargo service to the southern United States such as it had with Jacksonville, Fla., some years ago.

Ships leaving Belledune with lumber, lead and other exports need “back haul” cargo for the return trip to Canada so that it does not travel empty. The United States Jones Act, which prevents foreign ships from transporting passengers between U.S. ports, complicates this issue, he said.

Many people spoke about border issues, something the New Brunswick representatives understand, said Don Dennison of Fredericton, executive dirtector of the New Brunswick Business Council, from Savannah.

Canada provides the largest market for the southeast states, after the rest of the U.S.A., Dennison said. “Most participants are surprised at the numbers that are being presented,” he said.