Northern econ. dev. redux

I actually got a couple of telephone calls over my blog on Northern NB the other day.

Maybe I’ll boil my thinking down to one simple concept. Make that two.

1. Do you want to be about hanging on or growing? Because most of what I see from the North these days is about hanging on: topping up the EI program, demanding no more hospital bed closures, demanding funding for the airport, etc. What you should be demanding is economic development support.

2. I think the North (led by the mayors) should issue a manifesto of their own calling for a new ‘grand bargain’. They should state their own desire to become ‘self sufficient’. They should collectively commit to many of the changes required internally to make this happen (i.e. EI reform for one). Then they should reach out to their partners in Freddy and Ottawa to help them achieve this goal. Talk about turning the tables. Northern NB wants to be a leading region in North America for rural economic renewal. It wants to follow Northern New York and become a hub for Canadian data centres. It wants to follow the new rural southern US and become a rural manufacturing centre. It wants to build new animation industries leveraging the great work at NBCC Miramichi. It wants to become a language translation centre for all of Canada. It wants to [fill in the blank].

And while I’m on the topic. I think the North should be very deliberate about attracting talented people from outside the region. Heck, outside the country. I was in a session yesterday with a transplant from Pennsylvania (now in Moncton). He was brash, determined, articulate (maybe all the things we actually like about the Yanks). I think we need some of this grafted onto Northern NB. This is not to take away anything from the people but just a clear realization that if your top export for decades is your people, you need to recognize that you lost a lot of intellectual horsepower over the years. Now, we need to bring it back. I’d like to see half the economic developers over there be brought in from succesful rural economic renewal areas across North America.

I know I will get ridiculed for this the same way Shawn Graham’s idea to bring in top external talent to help with government renewal was roundly trashed (and now seems to have died).

But, in the words of the old sage Donald Savoie, economic development is only about two things: people and money. That’s it.

And we have been bleeding people and money for decades. It’s time to bring back both.

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0 Responses to Northern econ. dev. redux

  1. Anonymous says:

    Moncton was singing a different tune back when its railyard closed, back then it was ‘we need money for infrastructure’. They wanted money for the university, for better highways, for an updated airport. Sound familiar?

    So when the north, which NOW has the same problems that Moncton had back then calls for the same thing, they are told to ‘get realistic’.

    Though Moncton loves to pat itself on the back as if it was some group of municipal politicians and businessmen which did this, that’s far from the case. The airport was funded by the province and the feds, the province gave the highway priority, and the university and medical schools were given money.

    So how many EI reform programs is Moncton sponsoring? Is Saint John looking for an program to get investment in exchange for EI cutoffs? Of course not.

    Northern areas are yelling about all the right things, unfortunately they aren’t yelling in the right way. The problem is, when the only people who want economic development money are those who have left you have a political problem.

    So even if there were a ‘northern party’ who ran as independants or as a ‘northern party’, it would be a hard sell because most people know that in a place like NB if you don’t go with a winner, your riding suffers for it.

    For the Mayors though, that’s a different story, and thats always the problem when dealing with a colony, which is what canadian governments act like. So anything NB does is simply duplicated by wealthier provinces, and anything Campbellton does to get investment is duplicated by Moncton or Fredericton.

    That’s how a colony ‘works’ and why colonies usually don’t work. Because everything you try locally is thwarted by the next level of government. So to bring up Mr.Savoie’s book, under McKenna, supposedly the pro business fella, there was great sympatico between the regional economic units and the federal ones, who were quite willing to defer to local expertise, but this was thwarted by provincial bureaucrats. And as Savoie states, if you don’t have the unity of ALL levels of government then you’re going nowhere.

    If I were Mayor, and what I’m going to say would guarantee I’d nver be elected, I’d be siding with the economic development officers and councils of the neareast native reserve and forming a union in the north of people to run for provincial office. Thats a lobby. The north would be swimming in wealth if they could simply control their own resources. Forget opening banana stands, there are reasons people go to war over LAND. Because you can do shitloads with it. Add a little investment on the production side and you’ve got a plan.

    That was what they used to say about the Irish-if they’d only ‘learn a trade’ then we could employ them while we take all their land.

    On that track though I’d bypass the province entirely and take municipal land and travel to ALberta and find some investors for a charter plane service. Air Canada is already thinking about Bathurst, and I don’t think anybody in Moncton should even dare to urge or chastise somebody else when it comes to airports. The government and ALberta companies needing labour could simply fly in groups to work four or five day shifts and then go home.

  2. David Campbell says:

    You keep it up. Unwillingness to change and bashing of a person just because they live in Moncton will get the north nowhere. The government has been following a de facto policy of emptying out the North for years. I come in trying to propose some solutions and get hammered for living in Moncton. I come from seven generations of Miramichiers on both sides of the family so your trite little insinuations mean nothing to me. I happen to feel strongly that a shuttle bus from Campbellton to a hub airport (not necessarily Moncton) makes a heck of a lot of sense compared to trying as hard as possible to get one Air Canada flight with non-competitive rates and spending millions in public funds to keep an airport open. One of the lessons learned in rural economic renewal activity all over the industrialized world is that if you decide to live in a small community without a critical mass of population you will have to commute more to urban centres for a wide variety of commercial and government services. Efforts to hang on at all costs to hospitals, schools, airports, banks, whatever while the population dries up is a losing proposition. The focus should be on the underlying economic challenges. Part of making the North a viable and successful economy will involve adjusting the cost structure. Right now it is heavily tilted towards expenses. I want the ledger to tilt towards investments.

    I don’t know why people like you just don’t get it. When the Federal Cabinet sits around deciding where to spend money and somebody proposes some form of investment they will get hammered with the billions of EI and Equalization shipped down here each year. On just about every metric (Equalization, health and social transfers, special projects), New Brunswick gets more per capita than Ontario – except the one that really matters – funds for economic development.

  3. Anonymous says:

    1) Listen to Your ‘Customer’

    Let’s stop being so pompous and inward looking with economic development. Let’s quit assuming we know best what business needs to excel and assuming we know best where they should establish and operate. Quit guessing that a highway is needed, an airport is needed etc. Let’s talk to companies that are seriously interested in expanding/relocating and understand what they need to excel then match them up with the best NB business environment available and enhance it based on the needs they identify.

    2) Focus

    We need to stop diluting our efforts through our attempts to keep everyone happy (geographically and by industry sector). If we could identify appropriate strengths and differentiators then focus on one or two sectors (reality check: we are the size of a small Toronto suburb)with sustained support for a number of years (e.g. NB’s contact center industry or PEI’s aerospace industry) we could make a significant difference. This is the secret of PEI’s success; they are small enough that they can focus and reach a consensus. NBers are eating their own lunch by fighting among ourselves.

    Moncton itself is an example of success with unison and focus. Because they had an intervention, a sense of urgency, they rallied together and focused to make progress. This is where EI is failing underdeveloped regions and creating perpetual welfare. Throwing depressed regions enough crumbs to barely get by is likely worse than allowing them to feel a real sense of urgency, recognize they have a problem that they must take charge of and resulting in the realization that they have to work together to change and take control of their destiny.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You took that way too personally dude, relax. You’re the only guy in the province even writing about this stuff so nobody is being rude here. The point is that federal and provincial millions were put into the Moncton airport so why should the north be any different?

    It may lose money-at first, just like Moncton’s airport lost money-at first. It takes time to build up a critical mass. For example, under the plan suggested, its fairly straight forward that many of the people who would be interested in such a deal may currently live in Alberta. And of course if it has ‘lousy service’ then who would do it. I’ve never understood what that means, so long as the plane doesn’t crash thats all most people want, and depending on scheduling the flights don’t actually even have to be that regular-it depends on the companies involved.

    So an oil company needs 800 workers. So long as that one company makes its schedule so that X number of people are travelling on X day of the week then you’ve got your critical mass right there. The mining industry does it all the time, miners in Thunder Bay work two weeks on and two weeks off in rural northern ontario. There are many in the mining industry that live in BC because they can do that. In fact one politician in Nova Scotia was quoted as saying that half the parents on his son’s hockey team travelled from the west back to Nova Scotia biweekly.

    That’s competition, so again, to state that ‘we shouldn’t help out the north in the way Moncton was helped out because they would compete with Moncton’ isn’t very fair. I can see why it would be suggested, even why it would make sense from a certain perspective.

    The reality is simple-treat people fair. That’s why its hard for NB to caw at the feds for neglecting them, because the province does the exact same thing to the north. You saw from the list the other day that virtually all ACOA funding went to companies in the south. The north gets infrastructure funding.

    As for the population ‘theory’ that’s just plain wrong. Just go travel through europe and most of the world and you will find cities, towns and villages whose populations hasn’t changed in a millenia. Go to Vermont and its exactly the same.

    There’s nothing wrong with making suggestions, knock yourself out, the more suggestions the better. As the above poster says though, don’t assume that just because you have training in this that you know ‘the right way’ to solve this problem. Tomorrow a guy from Campbellton could win the 100 million dollar lottery and use to to fund some business. Some old guy who left Tracadie sixty years ago and is now a billionaire in the southern US could die and leave a trust to the people of that area. Some chairman of some company could fall in love with an area and decide to build a company there. Who knows? Business is as much art as it is science, probably even moreso, so there is no telling what can have an affect. The more ideas out there, the better. That doesn’t mean people don’t ‘get it’, it simply means everybody has an opinion, and everybody thinks theirs is the right one.

  5. Scott says:

    And the ppl [friends] I know are worth a shitload of money. Money that they definitely wouldn’t be able to make with their engineering , masters and doctorates degrees here in New Brunswick under the current economic circumstances.

    And this doesn’t just go for the urban areas in [New Brunswick] either. Take for example, my school basketball team as a snap shot. Everyone of the 14 players now reside outside the province. All 13 [excluding myself obviously] are executives either in Toronto, the head editor of a business magazine in BC, bankers, Baystreet lawyer, million dollar bond trader in Trinadad, Hollywood script writer, Big oil litigator in Boston, engineer in San Jose, and then list goes on and on and on. And this is just a basketball team from a small rural school in NB, not even the entire class. It would be interesting to know the overall damage [outmigration]in monetary terms since, say, 1970 for the entire province. I’m sure it is a figure that would make us ill to our proverbial stomachs — even when factoring in the incoming migrants who settled here to work.

    However, I’m sure not everyone made it big outside of this province, but the stories of individuals reaching their dreams and potential are numerous in other provinces, cities and countries. I think Alec Bruce’s daughter could attest to this. A bloody shame.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I know plenty of people like that as well. Executives every one, the one thing they have in common, is they all hate their jobs.

    Compare that with the guy that stays at home. He works half the year in the outdoors, maybe farming or fishing. Out on the ocean all day, or out in the fields-or even in the woods. I’ve done both, and I’ll take the former anyday.

    That’s of course why there is so much effort to get people away from these places and starve them out. Some people can’t wait to get away from their families and friends of course, but most people aren’t like that, especially ones like acadians and natives who have a culture to hold onto.

    But if your basketball team are all rich millionaires, why not get on the horn and get them investing in the province. Athletes got even more of a subsidized education than the rest of us, tell them its a good opportunity of giving back. Script writing of course can be done from anywhere, there are two quite famous ones living in Cape Breton.

    But that’s a tough combination to beat, the ones that leave do it for a reason with no interest in looking back, the ones that are here have no interest in making changes.

  7. Scott says:

    But that’s a tough combination to beat, the ones that leave do it for a reason with no interest in looking back, the ones that are here have no interest in making changes.

    Great statement, anon!! For the record, I’ve done the confined office job executive gig for quite sometime. And at the moment for me, it is either go back to that life [outside of NB] or look to start a business here so that I can live like I did back there [Toronto, Ottawa] because, at the moment, I can’t seem to find a firm or company that offers the type of compensation I’m looking for. However, it would be nice to work outside for a living. 😉