I hope that the TJ is wrong in its characterization of the new Northern New Brunswick economic development fund.
The new fund will replace three existing funds – the Restigouche-Chaleur Economic Development Fund, the Acadian Peninsula Economic Development Fund and the Miramichi Regional Economic Development Fund – that are set to expire at the end of this month.
Here’s the quote:
The fund is designed to assist small- and medium-sized businesses, entrepreneurship, innovation and skills and training. It will also help with infrastructure projects.
The article goes on to say that $105 million have been given out to firms like this over the terms of the previous funds. And to what end?
I’m not one of these people that decries how the funds were spent. I’ll let others pour over the projects and extract a few that raise public ire. But on its face, these programs didn’t work. The region keeps losing population – particularly young people – and many of the high quality jobs are lost and replaced with tourism and Walmart.
And, if the TJ is right, we are set to do it all over again.
Let me propose an alternative model. Tennessee.
Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Rural Opportunity Initiative is based on a three-pronged approach to local economic development. Among the initiatives:
• “Orange Carpet Tours” that prepare local officials for corporate site-selection visits.
• A series of tax incentives for companies that invest in the state’s rural areas.
• The Rural Opportunity Fund, a new line of capital for businesses in the state’s non-urban areas.
First of all this is not just about attracting industry although that is a critical part of the Tennessee program. You must understand that the fundamental goal is to foster new business investment in larger chunks. 100, 200, 300 jobs. National and international firms that offer good wages and benefits. That’s what Northern NB needs right now. We can’t replace $30/hour mill jobs that offered long term stable employment in a community (remember the mill in Dalhousie was operational for 90 years) with tourism jobs.
According to a local report, successes include:
• ThyssenKrupp Waupaca breaking ground on a $162 million expansion to the company’s Etowah operation in Southeast Tennessee, doubling the size of the current facility and adding more than 100 jobs.
• Fluid Routing Solutions adding 169 jobs as it consolidates its U.S. operations and expands its plant in Lexington in West Tennessee.
• Aisin Automotive Casting Tennessee investing $67 million to double the size of its plant in Clinton in East Tennessee and add 160 jobs.
• Vifan USA Inc. has begun construction on a $72 million facility in Morristown in East Tennessee.
• The combination of state incentives and available programs from the Tennessee Valley Authority also landed Fischer Tool & Die, which is building a $45 million plant in Tullahoma in southern Middle Tennessee.
• Auto parts manufacturer Arvin Sango looked at 20 locales before deciding to build a $10 million plant in Henderson.
Just those companies – 600-700 good paying jobs with well known firms. That’s what Northern New Brunswick needs.
Again, I can anticipate the reaction. “We don’t need these big firms coming in and taking taxpayer money and then leaving” or “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the community” or “We need to invest in our own companies”, etc. etc. etc.
We’ve taken that approach, folks, for decades and it hasn’t helped – particularly Northern New Brunswick.
It’s frustrating as an economic developer that people in leadership positions don’t see this – or at least don’t act on it.
We will have another fund that doles out dribs and drabs to small firms – again – probably some good projects – but in the end it will have neglible impact – just like the last three.
We need a funding mechanism coupled with a strong economic development that is open to all – local firms, national firms and international firms but the emphasis must be on demonstrable new investments that create 50, 100, 200 or more good paying jobs with good benefits.
Last point on this and I know I am a broken record but repetition is sometimes required. There are those that say “we can’t attract firms to Northern New Brunswick”. I have heard “it’s hard enough trying to convince firms to set up in Saint John or Fredericton.”
But to me that shows a lack of belief in the province and a lack of willingness to seriously work on the value proposition. If there are roadblocks to attracting investment in Northern New Brunswick – let’s get them out of the way. We spend $200 million to build roads without thinking twice. We spend $600 million on seasonal EI payments each year and it never gets a mention. Surely, we can address the barriers to investment in the North – which is the real issue here.