Ambition

I had lunch with Ron Gaudet today.  He’s the former CEO of Enterprise Greater Moncton that is going to run the Windsor, Ontario economic development group.  He’s walking into a pretty tough spot – 15% unemployment, lots of other problems but he is optimistic about the region turning around. 

I hope the new guy leading BNB in Northern New Brunswick is equally optimistic.  It would be easy for someone to see that job in bureaucratic terms, go through the motion for five years, get nothing done and then have people pat you on the shoulder and say “there wasn’t much you could’ve done anyway”.  I am not saying the new guy will do that – in fact the article says he is a guy who is biased towards action – but it all depends on your state of mind.

I can understand why people think Windsor will bounce back – it is in the industrial heartland of Canada – billions in government dough will be poured in there over the next few years to revive that economy (just like in the past). 

I wonder if there is broad agreement that Northern NB can be revived.  Many people have told me  – some fairly high up on the totem pole – that the North should be recalibrated around a much smaller economy with far fewer services.  They say this is happening anyway and we shouldn’t try and slow the decline by spreading around government grants. 

I take a different view of economic development.  I think if you get the right policy framework, the right value proposition, make targeted and strategic investments and then build a proper cluster development approach you can revive a place like Northern NB with limted subsidies and based primarily on private sector investment. 

Think about forestry.  UPM didn’t leave the forestry business.  They just left New Brunswick.  Same with the others. If the value proposition for them was strong, they would have stayed.  Certainly much of the blame for some of them rests internally with a lack of productivity measures and bad relations with the local union but certainly high power rates, dwindling access to fibre (because of chronic underinvestment in silviculture) and other factors that are shaped by public policy mattered. 

I don’t want to litigate this specific sector but my point is simple.  Ireland is a rock with limited natural resources.  It is basically Newfoundland without offshore oil and no Labrador minerals.  And no forestry to speak of either.  So how come it led the world for business investment for almost 25 years?  Good policy, planning and focus.  And even with Ireland’s recent struggles (nothing goes up for ever), the country is still far ahead of where it ever would have been.

That thinking should apply to New Brunswick and to northern New Brunswick.

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3 Responses to Ambition

  1. John Doe says:

    I wonder if there is broad agreement that Northern NB can be revived. Many people have told me – some fairly high up on the totem pole – that the North should be recalibrated around a much smaller economy with far fewer services. They say this is happening anyway and we shouldn’t try and slow the decline by spreading around government grants.
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    Is this to say that the focus should be in certain geographic areas, or in terms of the scale of the investments? I certainly agree that Miramichi and Bathurst are the municipalities most poised to rebound from the economic downturn, and with the exception of Edmundston, they are the most accessible to the more rural areas.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree a fresh approach is needed. Unfortunately, it looks like more golf courses, community halls, tourist traps and hockey rinks; they make for good photo ops. Strategic economic development will take time and does not always make for good political spin so it needs to be seperated.

    I also think there needs to be some local leadership emerge that takes ownership of the future. It is not adequate to say hey, you gave us $100 million last year and things are worse so we need $125 million this year. I am talking about someone from the community who recognizes the problem and takes ownership of it. This is what led to the turn arounds in Summerside and Moncton. Yes, they did get help from the government but there was local ownership of the problems beyond standing outside the Preemier’s office with your hand out.

  3. Samonymous says:

    I can understand why people think Windsor will bounce back – it is in the industrial heartland of Canada – billions in government dough will be poured in there over the next few years to revive that economy (just like in the past).

    The same was said about Pittsburgh when the steel industry went into decline. They’re bouncing back admirably.

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