I talked with a young economic developer this week for a couple of hours. He hasn’t been doing economic development that long but he told me that he felt there was a sense of self delusion among many economic developers in the province. He said they start to believe their own marketing shtick. Which, of course, is what I have been saying all along.
The message to the external market – business investors – needs to focus on our strengths and put forward our key attributes. The message interally needs to emphasize our weaknesses and how we can overcome them.
He, and I can’t fault him, wondered about our value proposition for business attraction. He told me that the guys and gals doing investment attraction have the “hardest job” in New Brunswick.
I agree. 15 years ago, we were pitching a lower cost environment than the U.S. and now that advantage is all but eroded due to the rise in the Canadian dollar. We were pitching lots of available labour and that has been dropping as well (although the latest unemployment numbers are up to 9.7% unemloyment). We were pitching low cost power. We were will a lot of projects in an industry we had natural advantages in – namely call centres but we are at the tail end of the call centre boom and desperately seeking new industries where we can be competitive.
He, and I agree with him, said we need to be far more focused on building the infrastructure for New Brunswick to be competitive. On making key investments that will help NB have a competitive advantage in specific sectors.
What is infrastructure when it comes to economic development? Simple. It is investing in whatever will make New Brunswick competitive in specific industry sectors: R&D, people/training, physical infrastructure, etc.
For example. Some people have said to me over the last week that it is outrageous that the Tennessee goverment would give VW tens of millions of dollars to train their workers.
To me that’s a weird way to look at things. The Tennessee government spends hundreds of millions each year on ‘education’ and ‘training’. They invest in primary, secondary and post-secondary education infrastructure. Why? So that the people of Tennessee can have the skills necessary to be successful in the job market. Education is not some abstract concept. It is one of the pieces of the pie needed for people to achieve their social goals and a certain standard of living.
To give VW millions to traing 1,200 workers, in my opinion, is even a far better investment than giving the money directly to educational institutions. That training investment is tied directly to high paying jobs.