It’s half past 12, do you know where your diaspora is?

I don’t know if you have heard the advertisments on the radio but there is a firm offering a GIS program that will let you ‘track’ your teenagers where ever they go without them know. As a dad with an almost teenaged girl…… Nah. You gotta have some trust. Besides, the thought of me in front of the computer watching a little GIS tracker move around the screen is a bit creepy to say the least.

But it did get me thinking. How many economic developers know where their economic diaspora is? Did you know the head of one of the top 5 US banks is from Saint John? Did you know that one of the heads of the top investment banks is from Saint John? Did you know that a top pharma boss in Montreal is from Moncton? The Vice Chairman of BMO? The Vice Chairman of TD? (Yes, you knew this one). How about the President of Lexus Canada? The former President of Saturn? A former senior executive at Microsoft?

I am not recommending a GIS tracker but I think this is very important. I recently saw a study showing that something like 80% of Fortune 500 executives invest in their home towns. A good recent example of this is Cianbro’s announcement of a 500 person manufacturing facility in Brewer, Maine (this is doubly interesting to me because I was the author of a report on the redevelopment of that site in 2005). The head of Cianbro is from that town.

Now, how many of the folks I mention above have invested in their home towns/province? How many of the 500,000+ people that have moved out of New Brunswick since 1976 hold middle and senior executive positions and could be in a position to recommend the company set up in New Brunswick?

If you are an economic developer and you don’t know your diaspora, you should just ask. Send out a note to your residents for a list of expatriates that moved out of the village/town/city in the past 20 years or so. Build a database and gently being to ping it. Some will spurn you. Some will put you off but some, like the head of Cianbro, might take an interest in their old town.

New segment:
In deference to all the TV cooking shows, I am starting a new segment called the “Whine and Cheese”.

Recommended Whine with this blog:
Back in the 1990s, when I told an high ranking economic dev. official in New Brunswick that the Vice President of a major manufacturing firm was an ex-New Brunswicker, he said “why would firm x ever want to locate in New Brunswick?” Ouch.

Recommended Cheese with this blog:
Having influence in a major corporation sometimes doesn’t mean much. Frank McKenna was the former chairman of CanWest. When he was appointed to that position, I had high hopes that New Brunswick would get more jobs – maybe start building a real cluster of media activity – but alas I was very wrong. Yesterday CanWest announced they were scaling back the already meagre efforts they have in the Maritimes. I know Frank is no longer with CanWest but…..

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0 Responses to It’s half past 12, do you know where your diaspora is?

  1. mikel says:

    Businesses are just like anything else, they are political entities themselves. I mentioned before about how IBM built a manufacturing plant in Vermont because the Chairmans son really liked the skiing.

    That may or may not be true, but we know Bill Gates can probably pretty much pick where Microsoft does business. A larger company like Canwest will have many different voices.

    But those are two very important issues. The first question is, how did you find out that info? The second is, most of these guys are in investment, and once again, that commentor is right, there is simply no place TO invest, even if they wanted one. Now, some people leave NB with the intention of never looking back and denying they ever set foot there. However, thats not always the case.

    But there needs to be a place to invest in. They can’t all just buy UPS stock. Everywhere you look is a ‘family’ operation that has no way for investment to proceed.

    And what the hell does diaspora mean!

  2. David Campbell says:

    It’s my attempt at intellectualism. I could have said “folks that moved away for economic reasons” but…

  3. NB taxpayer says:

    Dospora. Yeah, dispora. Really making an attempt to reach out to the average New Brunswicker, eh Dave? LOL!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Quote … “Back in the 1990s, when I told an high ranking economic dev. official in New Brunswick that the Vice President of a major manufacturing firm was an ex-New Brunswicker, he said “why would firm x ever want to locate in New Brunswick?” Ouch.”
    This I have no trouble believing. The same atttude is still in place at the official level.
    I am an ex New Brunswicker living in Europe for the last 8 years. I work in the same industry here as I worked back home.
    Whoever thought I could get a job with benefits???
    Whoever thought I could get a job with paid leave???
    Whoever thought I could be in line for promotion at regular intervals???
    Whoever thought that I’d actually get promotion in a fair and equitable selection process?
    My point in relation to your above quote is that my partner is European and I persuaded him to use his experience and contacts to investigate the feasibility of setting up something in NB. I was sorry that I ever put him through this.
    I wasnt exactly expecting a reception with a brass band parade with tickertape and helium balloons but I was expecting at least an energetic, intelligent, logical and sympathetic reception from the development people in the (Lord) government business department.
    What we got was a stifled reception, disbelief and suspicion that we wanted to try something different, a total disconnect from the bcrats and nothing at all from the minister of the day.
    I was shamed to be in the room as a fellow citizen as these assholes.
    I apologised to my partner and asked that he tell me to leave the room if I ever get another idea like this again.
    I read you blog on occasion and I notice that the same topics go round and round in a cyclical pattern. NB is the same now as it was when I left it 8 years ago, in fact it is worse. My kids will compelte their university degrees next year and I will be bringing them to Europe where they will get a fair shot at a job with prospects, above minimum wage, away from the Irvings and away from the depression that is enveloping them and many of my friends in New Brunswick.
    I admire your crusade to bring real investment to NB but if the government people dont think NB is worth investing in then who does?

  5. David Campbell says:

    You are the diaspora my friend (1:42 and 12:39!). Speaking to 1:42 I am sorry you had that experience. I hope we get to the point where all potential investors to this province are treated with professionalism and respect. And, yes, I wouldn’t mind a brass band. If a New Brunswicker has gone out into the world, learned a trade, started a biz or became an expert in some area and wants to bring that knowledge/capital back to New Brunswick, we should let off a few fire crackers.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Fiecrackers are not necessary. I am part of a group of ex NBers who live here all of the same opinion. When I was home in the summer we heard about the Sussex resort falling through which just proves my previous comments about things being just the same as usual.
    God bless us all.

  7. NB taxpayer says:

    Just to clarify, I thought maybe if you changed it up a bit on this blog, started making more spelling errors, focused more on the rights of 13 year olds to ride ATVs or talked more about legalizing marijuana, then maybe your readership would double or even triple. Gotta connect, brother. Gotta connect.

    As I see it, right now, the marketability of an economic developer in NB talking sense (which you do) with “big city words” (as they say in the Miramichi) is quite low, especially considering 40 per cent can’t read a label on a pack of gum and the remaining 50 of the other 60 per cent haven’t read a book since being forced to read a terrible Emily Brontë novel in grade 12.

    Oh btw, I see two more mills closed yesterday. I’m sure no one actually cares though as now they can buy cheap toilet paper in Maine with their high dollar without worrying about paying duty. The perks of being a NBer. It doesn’t get any better.

    Note to Dave: sorry for stealing your commute joke, but it is “Whine and Cheese” friday after all.

  8. mikel says:

    There is somethign that should be said, namely, there are LOTS of different people in government. New Brunswick is a small place, and one thing that people need to learn is WHO at the government to talk to.

    New Brunswick is such a small province that the best course of action is to email the Premier directly, not some bureaucratic flunky.

    However, this comes back to my central point-governments play to their base. Companies that will hire lots of people or those with lots of cash or investment will always get a reception.

    But keep in mind that if you are a bureaucrat with a steady paycheque then its quite reasonable to say ‘why would you want to set up here?’ After all, they have little riding on it, and despite David’s enthusiasm, the reality is that there are unlimited options for most companies.

    However, David is making some small attempt at least of discussing this, but that is not going to win out over a multibillion dollar corporation like Irving or other resource holders. The province is almost literally run by these industries, which is why they don’t want to see others set up-or at least don’t want to put much effort into it.

    That is exactly what has to change. However, ‘doing what is right’ is never easy, and the poster above is lucky to be in a position where the most they suffered was a little embarassment-Charles got locked up!

    So I’d like to ask the above poster to contact me, my email is [email protected] I’m not making a pitch, but there may be a way to make a small difference even if the government shines you off. The only way government changes is when people make it change, and thats whats got to happen.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I, too, am an ex-New Brunswicker living in Europe, if anon 1:42 is interested, and I, too, am part of a diasporadic group of expats.
    Having had a similar experience to hers I have total sympathy with her point of view. My partner’s solution was to set the business up somewhere that (in his words) “allows entrepreneurialism to flourish and doesnt just place a motto such as ‘OPEN FOR BUSINESS’ on a web page when they quite clearly aren’t”.
    My kids have completed their degrees and are still unemployed. I had hoped to be able to assist in providing employment with our company in New Brunswick but now we are looking at ways that they can work over here with us instead.
    I’ve been away for 6 years going on 7 and belong to a well educated and successful group of expats who meet up every month or so. Every one of us feel that New Brunswick doesn’t want us there any more.
    Not everyone in NB goes to Alberta to work. Two friends of mine and their families are moving here after Christmas because the only option for both of their husbands is to move to Alberta for decent pay. This way they can keep their families together in a hospitable environment. Despite what the government would have you believe the diaspora is growing by the week.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mikel makes many valid and correct opints and it is unfortunate that he is so accurate. It is true that Irving seems to control the entire province but we all know that already and even if we didnt know it directly we probably all have this knowledge subliminally. As I am now on the outside looking in I can see it with more clariy than before. But this does not make it right and the government must take a lot of the blame.
    I can understand the point you make about the bcrats saying ‘why would you want to set up here?’ My answer to this is that their salaries are paid by the taxpayer and this is not a valid question to ask of a potntial investor. Each application such as ours should be looked at under the criteria laid down in investment attraction policy and not what is in the mind of a bcrat who probably knows little about what goes on outside the province or even Canada itself.
    Although I only suffered embarrassment my partner suffered financially. I will not say here how much was invested in this attempt in time and money but it was substantial in NB terms.
    I admire David for hiliting this and hope he continues with it but I cant se it making any difference. I will, however, use your email, Mikel. I will do it after Thanksgiving, which I hope you all have a very happy and peaceful one.

  11. richard says:

    When my spouse and I announced to my NB family that we were buying a local business and moving BACK to NB, the response was mainly “Why?? Who would want to live here?”.

    I am not surprised that bureaucrats were not too helpful to the anon poster above; I expect they get ‘Nigerian email’ inquiries every day. Attitides like that probably will not change until economic growth improves and there is less risk in committing an error. In the meantime, Mikel’s advice to go to the top is worth listening to; as he says NB is small enough that things can happen if you get the right ear.

    The diaspora will return if there are economic opportunities. As David has suggested in previous posts, focusing on a sector or two and attracting large outfits within that sector might be the best way to create those economic opportunities.