That whole forest for the trees thing

They say age brings understanding. Maybe. For me, the older I get the more I realize how little I really do know. I had a few conversations over the past week that have highlighted this fact.

The bottom line is that I am trying to cut a wide swath on this blog. Broad concepts around how to do economic development, attract industry and people, etc. But there are folks that focus on discrete little wedges and go infinitely more deep than I do and I listen to them talk with great interest.

But I would say this. Some of the smartest people I know in government, economic development and industry have unbelieveable depth on their specific focus areas but don’t seem to have much idea at all about the big picture.

I have used the word ‘ecosystem’ to describe economies and how they move forward or backward and I think that term is becoming increasingly relevant to me the more I study this stuff.

For example, we just spent 20 to 30 years at both the provincial and federal government levels gearing our economic development efforts towards the creation of and growth of small businesses. Have a look at all of the programs out there from BNB to ACOA and even the NRC. It’s all about the small fry. $10k for young entpreneurs to start their businesses. A few thousand bucks to support the hiring of a marketing person. Trade assistance programs that cost share sending small firms to trade shows. On and on. Entrepreneurship, we are told.

Yet all the data we have shows that small business creation in New Brunswick is among the worst in North America. And after 20+ years of trying to stimulate more small business exports, we still have by my calculation something like 90 – 95% of all out of country exports from New Brunswick done by firms with at least 100 employees (and over 50% by one diversfied group).

If someone had just looked at the areas that have witnessed successful entrepreneurial climates that would have seen that attracting large multinational firms plays a key role. They would have seen that universities and research plays a key role. They might have encouraged those kids and their $10k grants to start new businesses – to actually finish university, go to work for a well established firm to get some experience and then go out and start a business.

So to all the guys and gals that go deep, I ask you to come up for air once in a while. Look across the landscape at how your little wedge fits into the big picture.

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0 Responses to That whole forest for the trees thing

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is quite true, David. I have more faith in people who actually see the bigger picture in all things than with those who focus on the minutiae of their personal portfolio. The latter simply breeds self interest.
    That is why I also believe that economic development at government level should not focus on one or two strands of industry sectors, it should be across the board in as many sectors as we have available to us. People with vision are needed – a vision for the whole province and not their specific department.
    Belated Christmas greetings and a happy New Year to you and yours.

  2. mikel says:

    I can’t believe you said that. I was going to try to limit my posts but then you post rubbish like that. HERE is the forest: just because the government SAYS that it is doing something and has some nominal infrastructure to ‘support’ it, doesn’t mean its true. Go read ‘1984’.

    Here’s what I mean (yes I like this example because people should know about it). Port Hope, Ontario is a small town on Lake ONtario where virtually ALL the processing of uranium is done for CANDU reactors all over the world (yes, that includes NB).

    Of course nuclear power is regulated by the feds, but implemented by the province and they are constantly talking about hthe MILLIONS they spend ‘taking care of the health of Port Hopians’.

    But here’s the thing, those millions go into ‘hypothetical studies’. Like Belledune they look at abstract models and ‘predict’ the environmental effects. Recently, a small community group raised ten grand so that ten people could have their blood tested for what was ACTUALLY in their blood.

    In other words, although millions are spent ‘supporting’ their health, not ONE blood test was done on a person from Port Hope to see what was ACTUALLY in their blood. Not only that, but this group raised the money becuase the government REFUSED to pay a thousand dollars out of those millions to test a SINGLE PERSON.

    Of course we know why, their findings were scary as hell, in fact they had to send them to Germany because Canada didn’t even HAVE the testing equipment to test for uranium products. You can hear that on the Waterkeepers.ca website at their podcast.

    So just because ACOA is there means nothing. THeir ‘help’, as you say, consists of sending people to trade shows. Again, that guy near moncton with the logging idea was told to go to horticultural school before they’d give him any money (if then).

    Now compare that with the previous blogs. Multibillion dollar multinationals are being GIVEN most of the wood, they are given money to increase technology and lay off workers, they are GIVEN land in deals that haven’t been seen the like of in fifty years. As any farmer will tell you, the entire agricultural policy is pretty much dictated by McCain, and forest companies literally run forest policy.

    Just because you may find a few token dollars to entrepreneurs certainly doesn’t make what you say true. Sorry, I still can’t actually believe you said that. Molson is an entrepreneur? What entrepreneur got a deal like that? What entrepreneur got a giveaway like they did in Nackawic, or Atlantic Yarns? Who? I know many small businessmeen, you think the Mazzucca’s got those kinds of sweetheart deals?

    Sorry, but I gotta say for ‘seeeing the forest’ I think you are standing in the middle of it. ACOA gives diddly squat in forgiveable loans, you can count every time they do, because they make it sound like the second coming every time they buy a new saw blade for a veneering company in Tobique.

    And of course that says nothing about industry wide supports. Like I’ve said, NB will NEVER get rid of coal power for the simple reason that waste products from Coleson Cove are used by Irvings synthetic wallboard plant. Now, what kind of entrepreneur in his WILDEST dreams could benefit from the entire focus of an entire province’s energy policy?

    I don’t like to get personal, but I got a student ‘business loan’ for a company I started during the summer, it wasn’t much, and although they were patient they were prepared to hound me to my dying day to get back the last 3 grand I owed them, and this was after I had moved to Ontario and was living off pancakes, living in a dank dark basement apartment with ten grand still owing in student loans and teeth rotting in my head that I couldn’t afford to have seen to. So maybe thats some personal bias peaking into that analysis, but the gist of it still holds true.

    Go ask the guy who started Fat Kat Productions how much that ‘small company investment’ ever helped him (NOW it is, now that he’s bigger and every other company in Miramichi is fleeing).

    As I’ve said, if you REALLY want to foster entrepreneurs, its simple and doesnt’ take ANY direct loans-start a television company for New Brunswickers. Make copies of Flash free, anybody can learn it. The station would be a provincial station, meaning like TVO or TVSaskatchewan (global does squat for NB and Rogers doesnt’ do much more than keep the Acadiaman guys out of the pogey office).

    In fact its pretty Darwinian so even conservatives can support it. Have community councils decide on quality and make it local for each area so that each area fosters its own ‘culture’. See how easy that is? Of course you WON”T see that for the same reason we don’t see YOUR policies-big companies don’t WANT them, so little people have to work their asses off just to get by. Go look at the guy who started Acadie Urbaine, he couldn’t even make a living in NB so lives in Quebec while running the website for acadian culture.

    The last time I talked to him was to send him a link from a group in Cape Breton who had lobbied successfully to get millions for a local channel, but NB, alas, is always different. The group in St. Andrews got more restrictions on them and virtually no funds for their community station which doesn’t have the money to do much more than run bingo.

    Again, the SOLUTIONS are easy, but the barriers to them are huge, like billions of dollars huge. It’s EASY to encourage entrepreneurs, thats what a farmers market is, thats what really pushed the internet forward, thats what LOCAL investment is. ALL people are entrepreneurial, just like all people are scientists when you get down to it. Unless a person is a hypnotized couch potato without a single thought in their head its basic human nature. Fostering it is EASY, in fact look how much work goes on in the press and by government to DISCOURAGE it.

    Did you actually BELIEVE the NB biz council when they said they want local entrepreneurial talent fostered? Gee, well I want a big forgiveable loan and free water so I can set up my brewery right next to Moosehead, and I want to build an LNG terminal in Saint John to compete with Irvings. Thats sort of like Irvings saying ‘we love competition’ then suing hell in Woodstock and cutting ad rates. Just because government programs exist and just because people SAY things doesn’t make it so. THAT is the forest.