The wisdom (or lack thereof) of crowds

Sometimes I get a headache in this business.  Someone sent me the results of a resident survey in a community in the Maritime Provinces that recently lost a major employer (forest products).   The Council sent out a survey to ask what types of industry should they work to try and attract.

They want more retail, recreation, some health care services, etc.  I think only one or two of the respondents actually said the community should actually go out and try and replace the major employer to attract new non-local service industries.

Of course, the council could/should have asked the questions differently or maybe provided a better sense of context for residents that aren’t that familiar with economic development.

But if there was no market for a [fill in the blank] local service in the community before the loss of a few hundred jobs (this was a relatively small community), what will the market be now that potentially millions in disposable income has left (or is about to leave) the community?

I don’t really have a problem with a community trying to attract retail or other local services.  In fact, in many contexts, there are gaps and a capturable local market.  In those cases, it makes reasonable sense. 

But I must be clear on this point.  The mayor and council would have a better chance playing pickup sticks with their butt cheeks (to quote John Candy) that attracting retail and services into community that just lost 30% of its non-local services employment base.

We have got to do a better job of explaining economic development.

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2 Responses to The wisdom (or lack thereof) of crowds

  1. I would say that most municipal councils around here are better equipped for playing pickup sticks.

  2. mikel says:

    Actually, that’s not true, people aren’t as dumb as you think. Retail operates wherever there is a gap, and it doesn’t just service the local market (see the Moncton-Miramichi issue). In the US, you’ll find a Wal Mart in towns with as few as 1000 people, sometimes even less.
    New Brunswickers are realists. Check out the news. First, if the province can’t attract large scale anchor employers, then what chance for a small community is there? Second, those that would work for them have probably already left after the principal employer closed. Third, in small communities the ‘anchor’ company has usually been resource based. The history of resource management in the province has been far from stellar. At the CBC post there were a couple of people posting with dismay that a new buyer may have been found for the mill. They pointed out that the river is finally clean with some fish in it, and that horrible Miramichi stink is gone. It’s doubtful that apart from employees anybody would be looking to go back to the ‘good old days’.

    In other words, people want what is of use to them-and why wouldn’t they? The wording of the survey could have been bad, WE don’t know, however, if you want to sell ‘the impossible dream’ you’ve got to put it in pretty concrete terms or people won’t buy it. In a small community of 1000 people I can’t even IMAGINE how you’d ‘sell’ the ED theory being advanced here. Municipal councils have virtually ZERO power over the economy-even if you had a council made up of ED professionals it wouldn’t matter. So you really can’t be surprised that people are simply being realistic.

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