The uncertain post-industrial era

This is a very thoughtful and well written article on the complexities associated with economic development in rural New Brunswick – or what the subject of the piece calls rural New Brunswick – the Canada Research Chair in New Brunswick Studies at St. Thomas University, Tony Tremblay.

I’ll make a couple of quick points.  First, I am not sure that the ‘post-industrial era’ is inevitable.  As I have pointed out many times, there are 10s of millions of people in North America working in industrial jobs and there will be increasing pressure to do even more of that work closer to home.  It is enormously energy intensive to offshore our carbon emissions to India and China.  I believe over a longer time horizon – 20-30 years, there will be more industrial activity, not less in North America.  I do not believe it will be a massive increase as I also think there will be a parallel decrease in overall consumption as people start to figure out we don’t need three cars each, massive houses, etc.

The question is where will this industrial activity take place? I see no reason – really – why a place like the Port of Belledune couldn’t become a large scale industrial fabrication centre with thousands of workers.  It’s as good a place as any – we just need to get the value proposition right.

Tremblay’s assertion that communities have relevance and worth beyond their economic foundation is one I have made as well.  I think we have to work on that foundation because communities that are increasingly ‘wards’ of the state – in my opinion – won’t last too long.   Government and community leaders give up and let them wither.

Anothter point relates to the term ‘rural’.   Miramichi, Bathurst and Edmundston are not ‘rural’ by Statistics Canada definition.  They are small urban and take on all of the characteristics of small urban (not sure about Campbellton) centres.  There is also no reason – intrinsically – why we can’t see modest growth in these rural areas – services, IT, engineering and other professional work. 

My last point relates to his statement that we need long term strategic planning.  This is huge but mostly ignored.  Economic development in New Brunswick – and even more so Northern New Brunswick – has been about carving out some money from the budget and sprinkling it around the province.  We need to more creative that that.  We need to determine new industrial opportunities and then invest in the infrastructure (people, places, things) that make the province attractive to those opportunities. 

We are kidding ourselves if we think the sprinking taxpayer money around model will ever work.  I don’t think anyone has ever done a value for money audit on that spending.

If the government won’t listen to economic development types like me, maybe they will listen to an English prof at St. Thomas.

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One Response to The uncertain post-industrial era

  1. Mike says:

    I think in few years you will see a global consolidation and reorganization of many of the major manufacturing industries, especially in North America, with more firms bringing their manufacturing back. It is in a way inevitable as wages abroad become less competitive and greater efficiencies are found in domestic manufacturing. The time-line of events is a bit less predictable but there are a few ways that countries could stimulate this movement. One that I have heard a lot of talk about lately, and one that is not very popular among the right, is the implementation of a carbon tax. One of the primary reasons manufacturing is so cheap to export is because it so inexpensive to ship things all over the world. In China, there are companies that are building wind turbines, but are only casting the parts and putting them in a container to be assembled in the states. Are they really gaining a whole lot by lengthening the supply chain? Well yes and only because it cost them nothing to ship these parts back to the states, we’re talking about a few percentage points on their margins, like 2 or 3%. If a carbon tax is implemented a whole new stream of innovation will begin to occur. Manufacturing companies will be forced, by the market, to reinvent some of their processes to use less carbon fuels and find greater efficiences in there supply chains.
    As it relates to NB it will be very important for them to make sure they are positioned to participate in this reorganization. As we are currently seeing, non-carbon fuel energy is being explored and possibly expanded in the province which would be really attractive to companies who have high demands for such energy.
    I have never found this to be a very attrative option until recently when I heard about some these manufacturing companies going out of there way to try and take advantage of the so called cheap labour in Asia.

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