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When Maax Inc. went up for sale this week, talk was that the new owner would come from outside the Beauce, the bustling rural Quebec region that spawned this successful bathroom accessories maker.

But business teacher and Beauce native Jean-Marie Toulouse isn't so sure.

"You never know," says Prof. Toulouse, director of the Montreal business school l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales. "I wouldn't be surprised to see some local people buy it."

Prof. Toulouse knows the territory.

Born into a farm family in the Beauce region south of Quebec City, touching the Maine border, he had a front-row seat to the area's entrepreneurial dynamism that has generated a disproportionately high output of tycoons.

Placide Poulin, founder of Maax, is one of a multigenerational parade that includes Marcel Dutil, who constructed Canam Manac Group Inc., a steel products and trailer maker in St-Georges de Beauce, and Rémi Marcoux, who built Montreal-based Transcontinental Inc. into a printing and media force.

Mr. Dutil and Mr. Marcoux are Maax directors, and serve on the special committee that will handle the company's sale. It is expected to attract offers as high as $600-million, which could mean a $75-million payday for Mr. Poulin.

Ste.-Marie-de-Beauce-based Maax, with its bathtubs and fixtures, is a typical success story in a region where people have a knack for finding manufacturing and processing niches, and riding them to North American markets.

It even produced the family that built the Vachon snack cakes empire.

"It's an area where it is socially accepted that you act as an entrepreneur," says Prof. Toulouse, who admits that is not always the case in Quebec, or indeed Canada.

Prof. Toulouse has a demographic explanation for the Beauce valley's ability to give birth to small, growing companies, despite its relative remoteness and population of only about 100,000.

In the past, it was home to many large families, such as Prof. Toulouse and his 13 siblings. The Beauce's small farms couldn't be divided among all the kids, so some of the clan had to do something else. The most attractive, often the only, option was starting a business.

In addition, the Beauce borders on the United States, and the boundary was always ignored in seeking job opportunities. Seasonal workers drifted back and forth between Quebec and New England.

Meanwhile, "the road to Quebec City was not the best," Mr. Toulouse notes, which drove people to forge ties south of the border. "People do what is needed to survive," he adds.

That explains the export-driven nature of companies such as Maax, which derives 70 per cent of its sales from the United States and has never been shy about buying U.S. operations in growing to more than $600-million in annual sales.

The Beauce is not blessed with units of giant national or international corporations -- no big mines or huge forestry companies -- that would provide long-term employment opportunities to large numbers of people, as elsewhere in Quebec.

That fosters an attitude of self-sufficiency that's rare in a province where government is viewed as the ultimate safety net. "Government is there," Prof. Toulouse says, "but their way is to try to do it by themselves."

Given the absence of large national companies, Beauce businesses tend to be owned by people who live in the region. These roots are a key in maintaining the region's strong core of local industries, says Marc Dutil, president of Canam Manac and Marcel's 38-year-old son.

Because the region has no major geographical edge -- such as proximity to urban markets or big projects for hydroelectric power -- the major reason companies exist is because their owners live there, he says. "There is no logical reason to be here except to be born here."

Because owners are local, they are less inclined to sell or close operations in the community. Recently, slower construction markets forced Canam Manac to shed some assets, including the closing of a steel joist plant in Lafayette, Ind.

"If we were from Lafayette, that would not be the plant we're going to close," Mr. Dutil admits.

But in the Beauce, the family has been part of the fabric for generations. "My kids go to the public schools here." It's not like in Toronto, where, for example, if an executive closes a plant, he wouldn't have to look at the faces of the jobless people every day.

When Beauce natives leave, they carry with them that same drive. Transcontinental's Mr. Marcoux was one of 10 children in a family where the father sold his small farm and opened a local general store, diversifying into a number of businesses. He died of a heart attack at 39.

Son Rémi got a good education and joined a growing Montreal printing company called Quebecor Inc., owned by another dynamic entrepreneur, Pierre Péladeau.

Mr. Marcoux did well at Quebecor, but in the manner of many Beauce natives, he got restless and left the company in the mid-1970s to consider his entrepreneurial options. Mr. Péladeau predicted that his young executive would come running back.

"But I said to Mr. Péladeau, 'You don't know those Beauce [people]' " Mr. Marcoux recalled. "When those Beauce people have an idea, they live with it. He tried to get me back but I said, 'Mr. Péladeau, no, it's over.' "

Mr. Marcoux co-founded Transcontinental, which became a rival of Quebecor and last year reaped revenue of $1.8-billion. He owes a lot to his roots: "The Beauce is a paradise for small business."

That model has been poked and studied by many business academics, but it would be hard to duplicate the exact amalgam of factors in the region's success.

In fact, there remains a question of whether the Beauce itself can continue to turn out hungry entrepreneurs in a more comfortable age. Mr. Poulin, 65, said he put Maax on the block because his two children who work in the company told him they were not interested in running it.

If Maax is sold to a multinational maker of tubs and showers, its Beauce operations would certainly be less secure.

But Prof. Toulouse says that even if Maax gets sold to an outsider, the Beauce miracle is still alive because it has spawned so many strong role models for new generations.

That's the case for Marc Dutil, who looks up at the portrait of his legendary great-grandfather, lumberman Edouard Lacroix, hanging in the conference room.

"I'm supposed to be the generation who screws up," he laughs.

"I don't think so."

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