For many Canadian small businesses doing business in the United States, the recession hit hard because of a significant decrease in demand for imports, says Denis L’Heureux, regional vice-president for small business solutions at Export Development Canada.

Nonetheless, he says it is a mistake for people to assume they shouldn’t be looking for opportunities there, according to the Canwest News Service. “The U.S. is by far our greatest trade partner and that’s not going to change anytime soon,” he says.

L’Heureux suggests now is the time for small businesses to nurture relationships with U.S. customers so they will be well positioned when the recovery comes in full force.

“They have to be more targeted and smarter about it. Small companies have to make sure they plan their strategy well, spend sufficient time reviewing the market opportunities, how their product is adaptive to that market, or whether they need to adapt it, and what kind of distribution channel is best for them. There are some very fundamental questions people have to look at,” he says.

Small businesses that have taken a strategic approach have not only been able to weather the global recession well, but also find new opportunities in the United States.

One such company is Concord, Ontario-based Accord Plastics, which manufactures customized plastic products: “Our biggest users being the office furniture [makers], we saw a lot of slowdown, in some cases as much as a 50% reduction, so it was a bit of a hit,” says Vince Porcelli, director of sales and marketing at Accord Plastics. “But we were able to pick up some business in other markets in the U.S.”

One of those is recreational vehicle manufacturers. “We used to do RVs years ago but we were not able to maintain our business due to the size of our competitor,” Porcelli says. Its Canadian-based competitor went belly up in January and Accord Plastics acquired it in a matter weeks.

“We took back some old U.S. customers. We’ve been making trips down there every six weeks. The insurgence in the RV market carried us and we ended up levelling off year over year,” he said.