On R&D again

We talk a lot about R&D on this blog so this theme may seem redundant to some but I think it is well worth fleshing out. I was talking to a senior government official the other day and he said we ‘can’t compete’ with Ontario when it comes to funding and exploiting R&D. He specifically mentioned the $25 million given to a research chair to attract Richard Florida to study creativity at the U of T.

He is right and wrong. Certainly we can’t compete with the sheer volume of research being done in Ontario. We can’t compete with the huge capacity for R&D in the universities and institutions. Mostly, we can’t compete with the billions the Feds spend in R&D in the National Capital Region. I wonder if any other country in the western world concentrates as much of its federal government R&D spending in a single locale – but I digress.

But I think we should and can do a couple of things:

1. Commit to become competitive on overall R&D spending. And I don’t mean a silly marketing gimmick. Bernard Lord set up the NBIF and said we would be in the top three provinces in Canada for R&D spending per capita within 10 years. We are now over five years into his ‘plan’ and still dead last. You can’t make statements like that without knowing how you are going to achieve the goal. New Brunswick should commit to getting its R&D spending up to the national level within 10 years and then, unlike Lord’s plan, actually put tactics in place to make that happen. I am partial to using government incentives to attract far more private sector R&D but I realize that for some of the early stage research, there needs to be government dollars rather than tax or other incentives.

2. Focus. You can’t compete with the billions spent by Ontario but when you do spend, you should be competitive. For example, take North Carolina for a moment. It is about the same size as New Brunswick relative to the US overall population. It’s economic situation has some parallels to New Brunswick. Yet, North Carolina is considered to be a world leader in textiles R&D. Nowadays they are focusing on the use of textiles in advanced products well beyond clothing. How? Because they focused. New Brunswick should put most of its eggs in a few baskets. When it comes to R&D that matters. We desperately need to get beyond the carving up the few dollars and doling it out far and wide attitude that has plagued us for so long. If we want to compete with Ontario on creativity research (and I recommend not), let’s go out and find the next Richard Florida and endow him/her with $25 million right here in New Brunswick.

I used the example of Internet security before but I will remind you. In the early 2000s New Brunswick had a handful of interesting firms focused on innovative approaches to Web security (I think they are mostly still around). I called for serious R&D funding to see if we could build a little cluster of Web security activity. Maybe attract Symantec. Maybe grow a few innovative firms. But guess who attracted the world’s leading academic researcher in Web security? Dalhousie. Using mostly federal R&D money. New Brunswick, instead, put a little NRC money into a couple of joint projects but that was it. How about $25 million to set up chair in Internet Security at UNB?

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0 Responses to On R&D again

  1. richard says:

    "let's go out and find the next Richard Florida and endow him/her with $25 million right here in New Brunswick."

    Gahhhhh! Florida does not create or innovate. Why search for another copy of him? The government official who apparently salivates over FLorida should be canned. That's not innovation or creativity: for that you need real R&D. Good bloody grief!!

    You want to endow some research activities in NB. Then for heaven's sake let's build on our strengths FIRST. UNB has a great rep in forestry; but NB gets relatively little value from the forestry industry. We export a slightly modified product instead of getting more value-added from the ray material. Seems like an obvious place to start investing research dollars.

    Richard Florida or Florida clones? No No and triple No. The second that happens, or NB pumps a lot of our money into a useless business school, I'm outta here. All hope will then be officially lost.

    North Carolina is an example of what we could be. They have made massive investments in scientific research and have attracted into the Research Triangle area a number of research-oriented companies. Plenty of high-paying jobs have resulted. If they have a 'Richard Florida' there, you can bet he is popular with their chattering class, but despised by the actual research community.

  2. David Campbell says:

    I agree with you on Florida. I couldn’t even finish his latest book.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Focus.

    Ottawa can, and has, without resistance put billions into R&D in Ontario for the automotive sector and associated manufacturing sector because they had an automotive focus.

    Ottawa can, and has, easily put billions of R&D dollars into Quebec because they are focused on aerospace.

    Ottawa with little fanfare made billion dollar bailouts to Alberta farmers because they are focused on beef.

    As soon as the Feds begin to reach into their pockets to support a sector or industry in this region,a dozen or more sector groups scamble for the crumbs. Once you slice and dice the funding to distibute any monies fairly to the various areas of 'focus' (say 12 sectors or so), the various geographic regions (north and south), the ruthlessly competitive municipal areas (SJ, F'ton,M'ton), the two major language interests etc, Ottawa would have to be committing tens of billions of dollars in order to provide support of any substance. We make it easy for them to let us fight among ourselves while the money flows elsewhere.

    We have to make it easy for the federal government money to flow by agreeing on a focus (or two) and letting money flow where it can generate the best returns regardless of our childish minority interests.

    Unfortunately, we continue to attempt to satisfy everyone and in doing so we are satisfing nobody while being left in the dust.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Undoubtedlymore R&D is needed in NB to be prosperous. However, we need to keep the goal in mind.

    We need new products and services, value add to our resources and productivity initiatives to be globally competitive.

    Most people assume the best way to get this is grant money to universities. There are loads of Federal programs for university research and we should be going after that funding. However, industry needs access to research funds. That is an area where the province can make a significant difference.

    Winning a research chair or research funding is not the end goal.

  5. mikel says:

    Florida is an economic development researcher, NOT an entrepreneur. He's a researcher who makes recommendations, just like, oh I don't know, I'm sure there's somebody around here like that!

    He's at the top of his field and has people who never paid any attention to ED talking about it, THAT is why you look for somebody like him. In his field he is at the top, and when you get top people, others tend to pay attention.

    Getting value from industry is different than research, completely different. You can't tell researchers to 'fix NB forestry policy'-they are scientists, they know nothing about setting policy. 'Research' is one of those overused words that can mean anything. There is TONS of research in technology, and it is applied at pulp mills and it enables the companies to have fewer employees and 'sometimes' to pollute less. That research has been used very successfully-the research to add value to the PROVINCE is very different. There is almost NO research in things like alternative forestry uses, micro managing forests, native forestry, etc. In other words, it is CORPORATE research that is being done.

    The research community IS the 'chattering class'-again, depending what that means. New Brunswick has a VERY poor business school, it is business schools that are supposed to turn out the entrepreneurs-physics, chemists and biologists don't know squat about business or how to 'market' whatever their research is.

    I used to work retail in Fredericton and owners I worked for knew many business profs (even the dean) and used to laugh at them. I still remember a marketing class where a group of MBA's came in and boasted about how they had purchased the clockmaking factory in Sheffield and proceeded to give us a marketing lecture on all the things the old idiot who used to own the place did wrong and how they were going to turn it into a cash cow.

    A year later they were bankrupt, and he was laughing all the way to the bank (actually probably not, its pretty sad to see something you've built get torn down by pompous idiots).

    So I'd say the opposite, obvsiously something is very wrong at the business schools in NB, I can still remember the focus they always placed on 'Public Administration', in fact that was one of their first MBA programs I believe.

    North Carolina is no more an example of what NB 'could be' than any other place. The demographics and economic arena is completely different. People are flocking to North Carolina, mostly due to pentagon spending.

    As for the above, there's no way you can say Alberta got federal money because they focused on beef. They got bail out money for sure, but there is virtually NO beef processing in Alberta anymore, it is all american. Recently there was an article about farmers there trying to build a co op processing plant, ironically right next to an american one, because they had no place to get their meat processed.

    And to think beef is Alberta's focus and not oil is to ignore the elephant in the room. Just like in Ontario, David mentioned the R&D in and around Ottawa-where there isn't an automotive plant within five hours drive.

    Again, here in Waterloo the Perimeter Institute got more federal dollars than all the NB research places combined-and the Perimeter Institute does 'theoretical physics', thats right, they don't even DO 'development'.

    CIGI is another success story that a prof started part time from his office. Now its an entire building the city gave to them for a song and they have numerous international partnerships, most recently with the UN. That is all 'chatter', they don't have a product or service at all but have a huge building full of employees now, in good part funded from federal dollars.

    And again, we KNOW the above is false-we have proof. WHen the cancer research centre in Moncton got funding, who screamed about it? DId you read ONE letter to the editor or editorial about how Moncton is getting something that nobody else is? Saint John is even getting a medical school and I've never heard a peep out of Moncton or Fredericton about it. The COMPLAINT is always made that it is inter-provincial bickering as to why 'nothing gets down'. However, thats far from the case when you actually look at the facts.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Michael presented an excellent example of the ‘slice and dice’ problem facing NB. Saint John is getting a medical school because Moncton is getting one. So once again our limited resources get diluted.

    Another example is the NRC IT Center. NB, about the last province to not have a major NRC facility finally got a break. During the planning stages, there was so much bickering (with regards to location) amoung the 3 cities we almost lost the opportunity. NRC finally acheived a cease fire by agreeing to establish satillite offices. Unfortunately, only the Feds could afford to expand to NB and set up in 3 locations simutanously.

    Denying there is a problem does not make it go away. It is real, it does exist. The key is to avoid expending energy attempting to fix it; the effort should go into managing around it.

    BTW, regarding the Moncton cancer research center, part of the reason you did not hear a peep is Fredericton created their own cancer research entity, Populomix.

  7. mikel says:

    Populomix is a satellite of the Moncton research facility, they even have the same director. But I wasn't even talking about its creation, I was talking about its FUNDING. In Moncton the director came out saying he's got good research, but no money to develop it. Within months they had provincial money, and a private consortium investing in it. In Fredericton or St. John you never heard boo. Fredericton may have fought for the Populomix facility-good for them, thats their JOB. If they did it a little better, ED wouldn't be so marginalized.

    The 'infighting' is SUPPOSED to happen, its is about the closest thing to 'democracy' that Canada has. Here in Ontario when Toyota was setting up two new factories, every town on the map was screaming for the Toyota facilities. In the end though, its up to TOYOTA.

    However, we don't know the details, if the above is an 'insider' then we need details or proof. If NB is so unprofessional that NCR or other investors are invited into the same room as those who are doing the 'bickering', then that's a problem- NOT the bickering.

    What are they going to do? Are MLA's threatening to beat up one another? Lamrock is a pretty big guy, is he threatening a Moncton MLA that IF Molson goes to Moncton then he'll steal his legislature lunch money? Are they calling each other names in front of NCR executives? We don't know, and if its that bad (and from stories I've heard from Charles Leblanc that actually wouldn't surprise me that much), then Mr. Campbell doesn't realize just how messed up it is out there.

    But when we look at these issues, thats pretty marginal. If anything there should be MORE 'bickering'. Saint John should be SCREAMING for a veterinary school. Even more than that, they should be getting a private group together and getting some investors, putting some of their own money in, then going to the province and feds and saying "here's the plan you &^%$ers, now give us a cheque so we can get this done". And if its done with community involvement, then those cheques WILL come.

    That also solves any potential bickering, but communties are like every level of government, they have their own interests, which is why Fredericton is more interested in big box stores, convention centres, and forcing the poor out of downtown.