Technology-based economic development

Think of this as PropelICT on a massive amount of steroids.  Or better yet, PropelICT, the NBIF and the folks doing ICT development at BNB all rolled into one.  Maybe something like NSBI but just for the technology-based industries.

The proof is always in the proverbial pudding but I like what I see with this model.  The West Virginia Coalition for Technology Based Economic Development – TechConnect West Virginia is a private sector-led model that is supported by industry, government, university and other institutional partners.  From what I can tell, it is fairly grand in its vision and relatively well financed.  In addition, West Virginia suffers from many of the stereotypes that New Brunswick has over the years.

TechConnect West Virginia’s four strategies are:

  1. Build a culture that supports innovation and entrepreneurship and the creation and growth of technology-based companies
  2. Promote a pro-active business climate with incentives that will grow, attract and retain technology-based companies
  3. Ensure access to capital at all stages of firm development
  4. Grow West Virginia’s technology clusters by building R&D and commercialization capacity around the targeted technology platforms

I know that some of the ICT industry are calling for a government ICT Czar.  Others are calling for the industry to come together into an industry association.  I wonder if we will ever see the industry evolve to the stage of maturity where a model like this emerges?   Imagine if the private sector actually played this direct a role in economic development?  Imagine if the private sector actually took a direct proactive role in attempting to attract industries to New Brunswick?

I would like to see it tried.  We haven’t seen any major changes to the ‘institutions’ of economic development in years.  BNB has a similar structure as it did 7-8 years ago.  The Enterprise Network is essentially the same (with evolving mandates of course).  The NBIF is the same as it was years ago.  ACOA is essentially the same (although I do see it moving away from economic development altogether into a regional delivery arm for an array of federal government programs).

Maybe a breakthrough approach like this – with Gerry Pond as Chair – would be a very interesting way to go.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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3 Responses to Technology-based economic development

  1. Anonymous says:

    It is very, very dangerous to draw comparrisons to US models that involve universities since the models are so very different.

    US universities are engaged with industry and business and their research tends to be focused on business interests because their funding depends on it. Canadian universities are focused on academic freedom, publications and tenure and CFIA, NSERC and numerous other programs support it with little business input/influence. There are pros and cons to both approaches but one of the cons is the business perspective; Canadian universities have a very poor record for business/commercialization success despite the billions in research funding they are granted hence Canada’s continuing failing grade (D) with our innovation in comparrision to other OECD countries (US is A).

    Your point about ACOA moving away from eonomic development is a disturbing observation. Most of ACOA’s research funding has gone to universities or projects involving universities and the results are scarce. Universities are cying for more money and more time but I am affraid that their cry is getting old and economic development funding bodies are giving up on research funding. You cannot blame them for their frustration but, as you suggest, if you want the billions in research funding to produce economic results rather than academic results, a different model is needed.

    I would suggest the different model would involve engaging business with the reserach funding.

  2. richard says:

    “US universities are engaged with industry ”

    Most good researchers at US universities are aggressive seekers of funding, but the same is true for good researchers in Canada. The differences in proportions of funding are really more to do with what is available than what is sought after. In the US, the private sector seems to be more pro-active in investing in R&D than in Canada. In that sense, its the business community here that is at fault, not the university research community. I think that industry in the US is more open to innovation.

    Having said that, there certainly are differences between US and Canadian universities. In the US, universities historically have had a mission approach, and that helps them connect with all sectors of society, not just business. One reason for that is the integration of various state and federal services with the universities in many states. This historic relationship no doubt helps them when business approaches the university.

    As far as engaging business with research funding, sorry, but very few businesses in Atlantic Canada have the infrastructure to carry our research. The most useful approach is getting business and universities together. Both sides here are at fault and need to recognize the value in the other side.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Richard is correct to adv ocate a better business-university relationship except when one side (the universities) is given all the money and has most of the programs designed for them, there is little incentive for them to change.

    A model where the customer (the business that will use or commercialize the research) has the money (or control of where it goes) and the researcher competes to provide the best value for it would make the universities better and result in more of the research actually being utilized.

    Some model along those lines would result in the kind of change David is suggesting in his post.

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