Those heady, exciting times

At the JA Business Hall of Fame dinner on Tuesday night I asked a couple of my colleagues to answer a question:  When you look back on this time in New Brunswick (after retirement), what will be your recollections?  Will we be remembering those heady, exciting days when the economy was booming and immigrants were pouring in?  Will we point to the fact that New Brunswick finally broke out – after more than a century?  Will we be talking about the “good old days”?

There was some chuckling and snippit commentary but suffice it to say that there is not much optimism in that group about this time in our history being anything more that mediocre.  One of my colleagues indicated the self-sufficiency agenda could have been such as catalyst but he didn’t see anything really happening after three years.

I can’t really see it either.  I think we may look back and talk about Moncton’s transformation in the 1990s (that is already an example used when I attended conferences in Halifax and Cape Breton recenty) but New Brunswick as a whole? 

Based on what I see right now I think we are in for a period of extended mediocrity.  One of the people I was talking to has knowledge of the call centre industry and thinks that there will be some consolidation and reduction coming.  I have been predicting that although so far I have been proven wrong.  Intuitively as we do more and more on the Web – banking, hotel reservations, parcel tracking, etc. – there should be less need for call centre agents.

The forestry industry is likely to come back but never to the level of the early 2000s (at least not until 2040 or so).  Mining?  The sector that Cecil Freeman said would bring us Alberta-style opportunity?  Maybe but we haven’t seen it so far. 

It takes a lot to build an industry from a few local firms with a few hundred jobs to a global powerhouse employing thousands.  It was done in this province with customer contact centres but beyond that, not much.

With the focus mostly elsewhere, it is unlikely to happen.

But mediocrity is not that bad.  It is better than catastrophe.

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13 Responses to Those heady, exciting times

  1. Anonymous says:

    We actually need to be on the cusp of a catastrophe to provoke change. That is what it took in Moncton.

  2. Nice to see that you have your optimist hat on today David. :-)

    I’m a little more optimistic for the future of NB. I agree that call centres are in for a slow decline as more people move to web bookings. I can’t recall the last time I called into a call centre.

    IT seems to be chugging along however. Success stories like Radian6 and Chalk Media (now RIM), there is some great potential to grow that sector.

    Hoping for something better than mediocrity.

  3. Mike says:

    “But mediocrity is not that bad. It is better than catastrophe.”

    What? Seriously? Have you ever heard anyone say as long as we strive for mediocrity we will be happy? Hell no. Mediocrity is terrible because it is exactly that sense of complacency that makes you slowly and unknowingly because uncompetitive until it reaches a point where others are waving to you as they run by you.

    This is the problem in NB. It is too complacent. NB needs to work harder and work smarter and good things will happen. Stop analyzing things to death, and take some freaking risks.
    Mike in Calgary

  4. Mike, relax – it was tongue in cheek.

  5. Anonymous says:

    One event that might be reflected upon (negatively) for a long is the rumoured sale of NB Power to Hydro Quebec.

    The Irving papers report this as a great opportunity to reduce rates for ratepayers. The reality is that Quebec is ruthlessly protectionist and we can forget any of our NB suppliers getting another dime of work from them. And when it comes to rates and respecting the interests of partners, Graham needs to jump on the jet and talk to a few Newfies about their experiences with Quebec Hydro.
    NB Power needs to be incorporated into our ED strategy. It should not be an entity to provide us power- wasting energy pigs with cheap rates. It should be a core component of a comprehensive energy strategy like NB Tel was the foundation for the contact center initiative. NB Tel was not expected to provide cheap phone rates were they? NB Power should be expected to provide competitive rates and then expected to be a source for:
    -Suppliers to develop skills and technology to be exported
    – inventors to prove new energy generation or energy saving technology
    – smart grid technology
    – alternatitive and renewable power testing and development
    – attraction of industry (eg it was a significant part of the UMOE decision)

    We have precious few NB assets that we can utilize for ED strategies. NB Power is one of them; please don’t screw this one up.

  6. Mike says:

    David- 99% of the NB population (including 100% of the government employees) does think that mediocrity is better than catastrophe. I assumed you were on that side of the fence. These people don’t actually want to change anything but I digress.

    Two suggestions for fixing NB:

    1. lay off 20% of the NB government employees, including MLA’s
    2. consolidate govt departments with NS and PEI concerning costliest government programs of health and education;Run the Maritime Education Department out of Fred and the Martime Health Department out of Halifax. Yes this means people in Halifax will be deciding things about your health, suck it up the doctors are all trained there anyway.

    I have others, and yes I live in Calgary but I have a strong emotional connection to New Brunswick

    Mike In Calgary

  7. Jon Doe says:

    Expanding the jurisdictional borders would only serve to harm the rural areas even more. It’s fun to rhow ideas out there, but you actually have the think through the reprecussions if you want to be taken seriously. Clamping down on the insanity of unions would be a greater service to the province than anything you suggested.

  8. Mike says:

    You are not expanding the jurisdictional boundaries, you are reducing inefficiencies through partnerships in order to avoid losing further value. For eg, someone in Fredericton is just as capable of deciding the educational needs of a student in Truro, as someone in Halifax.

    If you are concerned about rural areas being harmed, the reality is that ship has sailed. Young people have left rural areas because for the most part, if you ask them, they don’t want to live there. Rightly or wrongly, they want to live in cities. It is the same in Canada as it is in China, or Nebraska, or Wisconsin or wherever. If you are trying to change rural to urban than I think you are biting off more than you can chew.

  9. The fun thing about living in Moncton right now is that it feels a lot like living in Calgary in the early 1980s. No, there isn’t the forest of cranes we had in Alberta back then, but there’s this heady feeling that we can do anything you want. Oh, and there are cranes here, with more to come.

    I certainly take what David has to say about the rural regions of the province, but as has been the case for some time now, the urban regions pull the rural regions along. NB’s problem, economically, has for a long time been critical mass. But it feels, now, as though a choice has been made: Moncton will be the regional capital, the centre for health services, the finance industry and trade.

    I think this may be why my perspective is so different from David’s.

    I see us here in Moncton as engaged in the activity of building a city – an infrastructure, an environment, a home base – for the increasingly rapid accumulation of business and industry, where the main problem isn’t unemployment of the lack of ‘anchor tennants’, but rather, a shortage of skilled labour, a need for rapid infrastructure, and the rest.

    David appears to be trying to develop the economy by focusing on the rural regions (I could be wrong, but that’s what it feels like), trying to find big companies that will keep the towns and villages alive (while from my perspective, it isn’t industry that will keep these towns alive, it’s transportation – easy access by road and rail from the urban hub).

  10. p.s. It would help a _lot_ if we had high-speed rail connecting Moncton with Freddie, Saint John, Mirimichi, the airport, and Sackville/Amherst, but there are still too many conservatives in the province for that forward-looking sort of investment.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The high speed rail is a wonderful vision but a complete fantasy. You need huge volumes of people moving to come close to a viable service. The Edmonton-Calgary route is not viable and they have been debating the Toronto-Montreal one for decades. It may be another century or so before the Moncton-SJ route is viable. A more realistic option could be a regular helicoptor service.

  12. Anonymous says:

    @Stephen Downes

    I agreed with Stephen Downes all the way until he posted his p.s. note. A high-speed rail is not a matter of progressive thinking versus conservative thinking. It’s a matter of simple economics. The size of the market in NB is just too small (and that applies for most of Canada). In fact, even the idea for a high-speed train between Calgary and Edmonton was shot down (or put on hold?) as soon as it emerged earlier this year. And either one of these cities has more population than the entire province of New Brunswick (and more people who could afford paying for the service). Or do we also want the Government of New Brunswick to subsidize high-speed rail transportation for workers that live in rural areas?

  13. richard says:

    “Calgary in the early 1980s”

    Weren’t the cranes being torn down in the early 80s? Recession? Hopefully Moncton is doing a bit better than that. Seriously though, NB does not really have any urban centres. There are a couple of cities doing better then the NB norm, but no great shakes there either. When NB cities are living off of the export of goods and services out of NB, then I’ll be a believer.

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