Q&A: Quebec official discusses trade mission to Virginia

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Chief Executive Sees Wind Power as Major Business Opportunity

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December 17, 2021




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Catherine Schulte


Left to right: Chris Gullickson, Director of Economic Development for the Port of Virginia; Matt Smith, director of offshore wind business development for the Hampton Roads Alliance; Martine Hebert; and Sébastien Lanthier, Director of Economic Affairs at the Quebec General Delegation in New York chat at the Port of Virginia.

Québec’s Delegate General in New York, Martine Hébert, traveled to Virginia this week as part of a trip aimed at strengthening economic relations between her province and the Commonwealth.

Appointed in August by Quebec Premier François Legault and based in New York, Hébert is responsible for promoting the province’s economic interests in the mid-Atlantic region. She previously served as a provincial delegate in Chicago.

Bilateral merchandise trade between Quebec and Virginia amounts to about $1 billion a year, according to Hébert’s office. Quebec companies well established in Virginia include IT consulting and business services CGI, Intertape Polymer Group Inc., Alimentation Couche-Tard (which owns Couche-Tard, Circle K, Ingo and Kangaroo Express) and the services firm WSP Global Inc. Virginia Companies with significant operations in Quebec include Reston-based contractor General Dynamics Corp., McLean-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., McLean-based Capital One Financial Corp., and The Brink’s Co., based in Henrico.

During her three-day trade mission, which took her to Richmond and Norfolk between December 14 and 16, Hébert met with representatives of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Port of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Energy, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, Dominion Energy Inc. and other Virginia stakeholders.

Hébert spoke with Virginia Business Thursday at the end of her business trip. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Virginia Business: What similarities have you noticed between Virginia and Quebec?
Martine Hebert: The province of Quebec is almost the same size as Virginia in terms of population. We have many similarities with Virginia, such as a strong primary industry: mining and agriculture. . We also have a lot of agriculture, which is also the case in Virginia. Both regions have high-tech industries such as aerospace and IT, as well as highly strategic energy, logistics and infrastructure sectors. And both have strong commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I think we can take advantage of these similarities and the relationships we already have and encourage the development of mutually beneficial partnerships.

VB: What are the similarities that could lead to increased partnerships?
Hebert: Quebec is [one of the largest producers] hydroelectricity. Nearly 99% of our electricity is renewable and clean energy. More than 95% of it is produced thanks to hydroelectricity. …We have partnered with many states in the Mid-Atlantic region [already].

I know that Virginia has very ambitious plans…in terms of wind power generation. It’s fantastic to see the projects that are going to come. There are also partnerships to be established between Quebec and Virginia in this regard.

In terms of renewable energy, the Quebec government has also invested heavily in development and innovation in wind and solar power, so we have some very good players in Quebec. In fact, my trip here was an opportunity to invite some of the major players in wind energy in Virginia to our [event dedicated to] wind energy … which we will organize in New York in January. [There are] many opportunities to start the discussion. … How can we contribute and how can we learn from each other and contribute to each other’s success in this [energy] transition?

Martine Hébert (L) and Jennifer Palestrant, deputy chief of the Virginia Department of Energy, met during Hébert’s trip.

VB: What other business opportunities does Quebec offer for clean energy?
Hebert: Wind energy is just one example, but when we talk about wind energy, we are talking about intermittent energy. Intermittent energy also means having storage capacity.

In Quebec, we are… very innovative when it comes to energy storage. We have companies like EVLO, which specialize in this, our division of Hydro-Québec [public electrical utility].

We start the discussion. These are just a few examples of possible changes. We will see how we can achieve this and how we can contribute to everyone’s success by perhaps digging a little deeper into where there are areas of collaboration and what collaboration needs we can meet with Quebec expertise.

VB: Are there opportunities to strengthen ties outside of the wind?
Hebert: We also have the entire field of electric transport. … We have major key players who are already established in the United States and sell products in the United States … You have Quebec electric buses in many, many states and many major cities in the United States. … We have companies that use charging stations, specialized vehicles like electric school buses. Of course, all the vehicles that are produced in Quebec and in the United States by these players, both Lion [Electric Co.] and Nova Bus [owned by Volvo Buses]for example, they have factories and facilities in the United States to produce these vehicles.

The other big opportunity is on defense. As I said earlier, I think the pandemic has also shown us the importance of securing our supply chains. Critical minerals are one of the main concerns of very many countries. Fortunately, we have many essential minerals in our soil in Quebec. How can we better work with our American partners to secure the supply of critical minerals and ensure that we have a great American supply chain that is protected in North America? This is another example.

Additionally, we have some of the world’s leading players. I’m thinking of CAE [Inc.], which was originally a Quebec company, but you have CAE USA which is now here and which is very active in the defense industry, for example by providing training with flight simulators. … These are also areas where we can certainly continue to contribute together and strengthen ourselves through these companies of Quebec origin that are now established in the United States.

VB: We hope you enjoyed your trip and that you were well received.

Hebert: What I would say as a conclusion to my trip is that I have seen everywhere that Virginia is for lovers, but I would say that Virginia is for Quebecers too. We were warmly welcomed by everyone who organized this trip. It’s incredible. We are recognized in Quebec for our hospitality. I think we have found our match.

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