Ambition

There is this economic developer I know that I swear sits around most of the day thinking up ideas. Ways to trying and stimulate economic development in his community. Could innovative oil shale extraction techniques in Albania work in his community? Could we do innovative things in the biofuels area? Cripes, the guy’s website is in German and Dutch because he has a hunch the region could attract immigrant investors from Europe.

In my opinion that’s what economic developers should do. Not sit around saying why things can’t or won’t work but actually sit around dreaming up innovative ideas that just might work – given political will and community engagement. Consider my previous position on Bricklin. I consider this to have been one of Premier Hatfield’s greatest achievements because at least he tried. There hasn’t been an effort like that since and the way things are going will likely never be.

For example, think about the ‘energy hub’ concept in Saint John. It’s about infrastructure. Industry. Building the training infrastructure. It has its own lobby group. There’s research going on and more promised. Even the labour attraction strategies for Saint John are targeted towards this group of workers. Cripes, even the brand for the whole city is tied up around energy.

But my question is why can we only see this model when it involves natural resources or some very large private sector player already in place?

Why can’t we graft the ‘energy hub’ concept onto the ‘financial back office hub’ in Moncton? Or the animation hub in Miramichi? Or the e-security hub in Fredericton?

I never understood this. I guess we can see it when it is anchored with physical assets like refineries and power plants but we can’t when it is anchored with intellectual assets.

Maybe we should look seriously at this energy hub model. Take Miramichi. Instead of $5 million to UPM to get Lord through the election (it worked – but it didn’t if you know what I mean), why not $5 million to set up an animation research lab and reach out and attract matching funds from Microsoft or Nintendo? Why not make the vision for the NBCC in Miramichi to become a world leader in college level animation training? Why not partner with NSCAD on the creative side? Why not? Why not develop a strategy specifically targeting diaspora animators located outside? Why not?

Just hanging out the shingle and putting a “seek and find” officer in the Miramichi will do nothing. Having a clear and focused vision to build the Miramichi into an animation hub might – and I stress might – have some chance of success.

And if it fails so be it.

In the words of the great philosopher Neil Young, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

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0 Responses to Ambition

  1. mikel says:

    Again Dave, the simple reason is ..politics. Its the political economy stupid! The ‘energy logo’ in Saint John came about because it was ALREADY THERE. Irving did all the work. The last government (by necessity) did the nuclear work. Governments do not ‘initiate’ these things for simple reasons.

    The first is that it costs money. NBT can gripe about Atlantic Yarns or the Caisse but the simple reality is that, like natural resources, the government simply has no choice. Without something people would be picketing in the streets, or worse, looking at political options.

    The electorate is getting older, which means its not necessary to create new industries, its just necessary to keep the geezers out there thinking ‘things aren’t bad enough that we need to get involved’, or, heaver forbid, vote NDP.

    The second reason is the industry players. Irving is well known for making the government subdidize their plans. It’s interesting that the one thing they WON”T do is look for partnerships. I posted on that before, IF a refinery were going to built anyway, why not have the province as a PARTNER. At least with oil you know you have customers, unlike nuclear. People will always need to drive.

    But they don’t want that, since of course they can get money or resources or lack of regulations from the government without having to worry about paying out any profits. Ask yourself this, NB is one of the largest exporters of oil in the country, how much ‘benefit’ has the royalties made?

    But the animation companies in Miramichi are not ‘political’. Fatkat has been successful so far, and like most businesspeople, if you don’t NEED government, its best to avoid them as much as possible.

    Government does NOTHING without a push. Look at the cancer research in Moncton, the guy had to come out begging for money, THEN the government got on board.

    This is not all ‘anti’ government either. I suspect government (at least many who have any interest in their constituents) would LOVE to see groups or organizations build up the needed infrastructure. In other words, they don’t want to assume the risk. They need to know people are behind it. That comes from lobbying. This isnt a demand for ritalin studies or getting Charles back into the legislature, this is actually stuff government WANTS.

    But if nobody does it, well, ideas are fine and a dime a dozen, I have about five a day, but without people to do the work to see them through they are useless, like writing poetry and then burning it. And anybody can come up with ideas, its those people who put the work into seeing them through who are truly rare, and perhaps who, for the most part, don’t live in New Brunswick anymore.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent post and bang on. We need to select logical themes, ideally where there is existing expertise, and focus on exploiting it. Priorities on policy, funding and promotion should be associated with supporting the theme.

    This is in part, how Summerside’s aerospace park became successful. In part how the contact industry succeeded.

    One of the barriers that has to be overcome is the internal competitiveness. Provincial development has been paralyzed by the fear of helping one area with one thing and every other community asking for the same treatment.

    Case in point, Volpe questioning David Hay last month accusing NB Power of ignoring the north by putting the second nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau. Following this mentality, which has been shared by many, we’d have reactors scattered throughout New Brunswick.

    And look how Moncton was jealously viewed by other communities as they had their revival in the early 1990s. There were cries of unfair treatment from throughout the province.

    Currently, we have three cities all crying for a convention center. We have aerospace initiatives in all these cities and in the ‘chi. We could go on with a long list of duplicate efforts but the intent of your post is to be positive.

    So, your proposed themes look pretty good but why not challenge the various economic development organizations in these communities to either validate them or come up with an alternative that is logical, and somewhat unique, at least to NB. Then, focus the energies on these themes, even at the expense of secondary initiatives. If SJ’s focus is energy, associated requests and needs should be prioritized and unrelated requests take a back seat. Otherwise our non-focused efforts will lead to perpetual mediocrity.

  3. NB taxpayer says:

    Good post. Just to add to that, I think the [central and western Canadian] media have done a good job of painting this region as a bad place to do business. In other words, we’re a people that are always looking for a handout…a free pass so to speak. I mean even ex-pats in Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto catch the desease and put their old stomping grounds down after living there for a few years.

    I remember Mike Duffy (an ex-maritimer) had Dominic Leblanc on his show and the topic came up. He looked right into Leblanc eyes and said that the only way business would ever move to NB is if the politicians dangled out millions in front of them during an election. And even then, he said, most of them don’t come through on their promises. Leblanc’s eyes glazed over and he clinched his jaw. Let’s just say he was pissed.

    Not that I agree with the constant “put downs” of our region, however, there is some merit to that position that we are overly dependent on government.

    Although, there is also some evidence that our citizens have never stuck with the government after they get a taste of them though (after first mandate). In other words, they realize that relying on them was a mistake. If you don’t believe me, just look at our voting patterns towards an incumbent government (2nd election).

    1988: The Tories held 25 of the 32 seats after sweeping to victory in ’84. After all was said and done in ’88, they lost a whopping 13 seats to the Liberals leaving the opposition with the balance of power in the region. [see map]

    1993: Liberals win all but one seat [Elsie Wayne] in the maritimes in hopes that the Chretien government will pull off some sort of miracle and we will all be saved. [see map]

    1997: Liberals are swept out of the region losing a whopping 20 seats to opposition parties. I think it’s safe to say they weren’t happy with how things went. [see map]

    It’s funny, because the 2004 and 2006 election show that our region was cold to a guy would said we were dependent on government and had to shake that mantra. I think his words were “defeatist”??

    2007: election??? I suspect that we will get in line and vote against the government once again, especially if history proves correct.

    Let’s face it guys, judging from the past, there is no magical government pill that will make this situation all better. We would be better off with less government influence. At least then, we wouldn’t be so disappointed when they pull the rug from underneath utopian thinkers in the region who think more government money thrown at the problem will solve it. I think the message right now to our citizens [NB] is a 50/50 cost share from the feds. Wow, will we ever be disappointed when they don’t come through (said with tongue in cheek).