Sault Ste. Marie native opens international business

After traveling the world as a business and government contractor, a Sault Ste. Marie native has opened an office for her business consulting firm downtown. Read how retired U.S. Army officer Susan Puska hopes to provide a more global perspective to doing business.
Sault Ste. Marie has always had an international flair to it with Canada just minutes away and being a thoroughfare of international shipping and commerce. In a global economy it is important for businesses and municipalities such as the Soo to have some understanding of international business and trade and the potential opportunities.
A new business consulting firm located in the Soo's downtown district will help foster that understanding, which could mean more growth for local businesses and tourism.
Kanava International LLC, a firm that originated and is headquarted in the Washington D.C. area, has clients in places like Cambodia and West Africa, which may lead one to wonder why they would open an office in Sault Ste. Marie? The answer is simple: a desire to help out the ol' hometown.
Susan Puska, president and CEO of Kanava International LLC, is a native of the Soo who left several years ago to launch a career in the military. Puska's career in the service reached the height of a colonel in the U.S. Army as a logistician and military attaché to Beijing. After retiring from the Army she went to work as a U.S. government contractor and earned an MBA from George Mason University.
"I thought there was a real gap in the Soo in the professional services sector," says Puska, who will continue to work out of her Arlington, Virginia office but expects to return to her native hometown often. "The Soo has a lot of great qualities, it just needs a little attention. This seems like a good time with good momentum."
Some of the momentum she is referring to is the Soo's Michigan Main Street designation, which should do a lot to enhance the downtown area as a great place to do business, shop, and be entertained.
"There could be an expansion of the local offerings and marketing to bring more people downtown," she says. "Not just to see the locks and leave." She suggests the city engage in marketing efforts both nationally and internationally. Such efforts, for instance, could lead to opening a European-style restaurant that would help attract more foreign and domestic travelers.
Erin Marra was recently hired to staff the Soo office, serving as regional manager and providing back office support to Kanava's international development projects, as well as seeking partnering opportunities in the Upper Peninsula. She'll be joined by two part-time consultants
The company will also tap into the expertise of Carol Yee, an international management capacity building specialist, who joined Kanava as the chief operating officer in mid-2013, over a year after the company was formed. Kanava's mission, according to a recent press release, is to "spur economic development by helping build sustainable companies and non-profits." Puska says they can do this, in part, by making people aware of the funding and other opportunities that are available, including becoming a government contractor.
Puska says Kanava's staff brings diverse experiences working and living around the world that will generate new ideas and incorporate best practices from the international sphere to the "domestic economic environment", i.e, the EUP.  Puska chose the Soo to locate her firm's new office not only because it is her hometown, but also because of its designation as a historically underutilized business zone (HUBZone) and its proximity to Canada and the potential opportunities there.
"We've done market research, but we are now trying to find out what is appropriate for the area," says Puska. "I think there are opportunities for small business to improve sustainability.  We're helping small businesses in the Washington D.C. area to improve their funding diversity and comply with U.S. government regulations--we think this model can work in the Soo as well."

Kanava International plans an open house in conjunction with the Sault Area Chamber of Commerce in June.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and owner of Haylake Business Communications. You can find him on Twitter at @moranwrite.
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