Immigration, growth scenarios and Richard Florida

I just spent a day and half with a client talking about immigration.  These were a great bunch of folks (I can say that because I don’t believe they read this blog), highly motivated and talented.  I don’t see this notion that some people put forward about lazy and unproductive civil servants. Maybe it’s just the folks I work with but it seems to me that if they are motivated and passionate about things, civil servants can do some impressive things. 

I didn’t raise it during our meetings but I am still not 100% convinced we will need significant immigration. Sure I see all the projections but if you were doing serious scenario planning, I think you would come up with three distinct scenarios (or variations on the them).  For New Brunswick, as an example, the worst case scenario would see our traditional industries continue to decline, the appetite for large federal transfers drying up, industries like the call centre sector migrating 95% to the Web with the work repatriated back to central Canada, energy costs continuing to rise faster than other areas, and no traction in developing 21st century industries in the province such as ICT, life sciences, alternative energies, etc.   In that scenario, we could see (as I have said before) a deep population decline over 25-30 years and a forced marriage with Nova Scotia.  Government services would be deeply scaled back to a few urban centres and the rural areas would become outposts for mining or fishing concerns.  In that case, I see very little need for immigration – except for temporary workers at or around the minimum wage to harvest fish or potatoes for two months of the year.

That is the worst case scenario.  The middle case would see the province continue to have some limited economic development success, a few of the larger employers would continue to expand operations, the call centre industry would not collapse but migrate some to the Web and keep that work in province and the Feds keep the transfer payments stream going strong (basically the last 10 years’ model) and we would see population maintained at around 750,000 in 25-30 years.  In that case, you would need some immigrations or expatriates to move here because the local supply will have dried up significantly by then.

The optimistic scenario (and I don’t know many knowledgeable people that hold to this option) would see the population rising strongly over the next 25-30 years because a new set of 21st century industries take hold here and grow strongly.  The province becomes among the leaders in North America for business investment and puts in place an aggressive plan to attract talented workers from all over the world to help us build a dynamic and vibrant economy. 

The problem with the optimistic view is that we have never witnessed it in 150 years of history.  We have never even matched the national average population growth rate (Census to Census) since Confederation.  In the past 10-15 years when Canada was growing its population at an unprecedented rate, all NB could manage was population stagnation and 14 straight years of net out-migration.  So it is hard to be optimistic.

Switching topics, I also had a long chat with an economist I used to collaborate a bit with.  He and I were having a great time laughing about Richard Florida and his wildly popular theories about creative/cultural industries and economic growth.  I said his more rigorous economist colleagues must be angry that Florida has had such success with such a flimsy methodology.  He said they are mad because they didn’t think of it first.  Forida found a correlation between creative/cultural occupations and economic growth and has positioned that idea (and its derivatives) into a multimillion dollar, rock star status.   He doesn’t prove causality but he does prove a correlation.  So we were brainstorming what correlation we could come up with that would make us millions of dollars and bring fame and fortune.  Florida has cornered the creative/cultural/gay leads to economic growth model but how about the tall buildings correlates to economic growth model?

I can see it all now.  My first book will be called “The rise of big buildings – the taller they are the faster your city grows”.  My second book will be called “Mine’s bigger than yours: the race to the top – how communities are competing and winning the big buildings game”.   I’ll charge $50,000 per speech and the UofT will set up a %$50 million research chair in big buildings and economic development.

Hey.  Don’t criticize.  There is a far greater correlation between tall buildings and economic growth than creative/cultural occupations and economic growth.  Sure, I’ve got my causality problems – but that doesn’t stop Florida.

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6 Responses to Immigration, growth scenarios and Richard Florida

  1. nbt says:

    Which explains why Monkeytwon’s skyline hasn’t changed since I was a zygote. Happy sledding.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Please!
    Making NB bilingual and duplicating all services should be our only concern.
    Its what our former Premiers were paid to do!

  3. mikel says:

    Forget growth, the problems are certainly not that New Brunswick ‘isn’t growing enough’, the problem is what David constantly references-that there isn’t industry enough for the people who are there. The reality is that few people are champions of growth for the sake of growth, that makes no sense. All it does for you is make more traffic to get through, and higher taxes to pay for the increased services necessary-as Monctonites know full well.

    There are villages all over the world that have been in existence for centuries, even millenia, in New Brunswick Canada has shown that it can’t operate an egalitarian economy that will keep people in their homes for longer than two hundred years.

    So who cares if Moncton’s skyline hasn’t changed? If signs of progress are simply more buildings to pollute the skyline, well, again, that’s why there are like six posters here. Everybody KNOWS that when you hear ‘population growth’ its code for ‘Irving wants more cheap labour’. You’d have to be pretty blind to not notice that the world’s economy is contracting, technology is increasingly making large workforces redundant and nobody is talking about the most important questions-how do you construct an economy designed around people and the environment and not vice versa?

  4. It’s a joke, Mikel.

  5. mikel says:

    I was referring more to NBT’s comment, I knew yours was a joke. I may be clueless, but I can at least recognize sarcasm:)

    Just to keep updated, RIM has some new buildings going up here, although they won’t be for ‘new’ workers. One is going up and ruining virtually the only nice skyline view left in Waterloo, in an area that was supposed to go for conservation (Waterloo is about the physical size of downtown Moncton and has probably the fewest natural areas of any city I’ve seen). RIM, like Irving, gets what it wants.

    Meanwhile, a building twice the size as the one going up sits empty since Lazy Boy closed its last canadian facility. Several other new buildings are going up at the University, and more condo’s to house the students. I’ve posted before that Ontario now has fewer students per capita getting a post secondary education than Michigan or even Ohio (and probably NB). The president of UWaterloo gave a speech last fall about how the University (my words, his intent) was essentially going to be a ‘first class private school’ for the world. So that’s ‘growth’ for you.

  6. richard says:

    “Everybody KNOWS that when you hear ‘population growth’ its code for ‘Irving wants more cheap labour’.”

    Thats doubtful; the Irvings aren’t stupid. Significant population growth would have to be preceeded by sig economic growth. That might provide more customers for Irving but would raise the cost of labour. More importantly, it would invite competitors; Irving’s business model would collapse with an increase in real competition. The Irvings are happy with things the way they are.

    Perhaps you should poll the inhabitants of your happy villages and see how satisfied people there really are. There are not that many content and happy woodcutters in the world.

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