We saw that coming

You know what bugs me about the Smurfit-Stone plant closure in Bathurst? It’s that everyone involved in economic development could see it coming. We could also see the Tembec closure and the UPM Kymmene closure in the Miramichi. And Noranda. And so on.

In case you haven’t heard, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. is closing two Canadian containerboard mills, eliminating about 565 jobs, saying North American demand for packaging has sagged as manufacturing has shifted overseas. 270 of those jobs are in Bathurst.

I am sure that the economic development folks at the Department of Business New Brunswick have a detailed file on Smurfit and all the other forestry-based firms. I am sure they monitor their financial position. They could see this coming months ago.

And if you are a reader of this blog, you will know that I am constantly reminding you that the forestry sector is in a structural – not cyclical – decline. It will never be the economic driver that it once was.

And yet, I see no effort to replace these old economy jobs with new economy jobs. No effort to replace Smurfit with Microsoft or UPM with Ubisoft or Tembec with IBM or whatever*.

Years ago, the government should have been working with top, growing, new economy companies to attract them to New Brunswick.

And I am tired of all you folks saying “who would ever want to locate in New Brunswick?” – that kind of negativism is unwelcome in these quarters. I have seen fast growing and successful firms locate in places a lot more remote than New Brunswick. If anyone in Business New Brunswick doesn’t believe we can attract these firms, they should quit – right now.

We just have to compete. Why is it okay for Quebec to spend tens of millions of dollars to attract French animation development firm Ubisoft to Montreal and Quebec City and not okay for New Brunswick to do it? Ubisoft was in the Miramichi recently raiding the graduates from the NBCC animation program. Why not attract the company to Miramichi?

I will repeat. These communities are going to whither up and die – Bathurst, Campbellton, Miramichi, Tracadie-Sheila, Nackawic, etc. unless we figure out how to replace the old anchor employers – Noranda, Tembec, Smurfit, Abitibi, UPM – with new anchor employers.

And after these communities dry up Monton, Saint John and Fredericton won’t be far behind.

The next time I read in the Charleston Post & Courier about the South Carolina Governor flying on the state jet to Korea to meet with an auto manufacturer – I want to read that Premier Lord was ahead of him waiting to see the President of KIA Motors.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

Don’t bet on it.

*Note that the Indian firm looking to buy out the pulp mill in Nackawic is an interesting project. They are proposing to produce a textile product for global markets. If this happens, it may be a long term employer in that region.

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