A lion of N.S. industry in winter

I’m not sure why but I enjoy talking with these old guys.   This is an op/ed by a guy who interviewed an 89 year old economic developer from Nova Scotia.  Yes, there were lots of people doing economic development even back in the 1950s and 1960s.  There was more focus on attracting industry to the region back then.  This guy,Robert Manuge was general manager of Industrial Estates Ltd.

Here are some juicy tidbits (if you don’t want to read the full piece):

New industries are pouring into Nova Scotia at a prodigious clip. “Nova Scotia Moves into the Mainstream,” reads a headline in the Financial Times of London in 1965.

IEL’s “record makes impressive reading,” says Time magazine in 1962.

The Financial Post commented that IEL should succeed “if only by sheer audacity.” The audacity part was Manuge, along with industrialist Frank Sobey who served as president of the arm’s-length agency.

Always on the hunt for potential clients, a chance encounter with a person remotely linked to Michelin Tire on a plane trip led Manuge on a hunt — described by the Financial Post as an “international cloak and dagger thriller” — that finally got the secretive company here for its first North American landfall, against the wishes of French president Charles de Gaulle who wanted it in Quebec. A similar encounter landed India’s first major international investment, the Anil hardboard plant (now Georgia-Pacific) at East River, Lunenburg County.

And there was the first European car assembly plant, Volvo. One report has Manuge “literally chasing after Reynolds International chairman, J. Louis Reynolds,” to land Canada’s first aluminum can factory. His secretary kept count. He logged a million miles from 1961 to 1971 hustling business for Nova Scotia.

He’s quite cranky about things these days.   Not too big a fan of NSBI.  Doesn’t like the regional development agency.  Hates giving grants to business.

To be fair to the current crop of economic developers, it’s always easier to remember the positive of an earlier age than the negative (people want to put a positive spin on their past accomplishments, naturally). 

But I think there is something to the underlying point here.  Someone just sent me something that shows NB is forecasting to spend $345 million on ‘economic development’ in 2010.  That’s a huge pile of dough. 

I have felt for a number of years that sprinkling taxpayer money around the economy in the form of grants hasn’t worked very well.   Regardless of what you think of the use of grants, there doesn’t seem to be high level evidence of results.    There are isolated cases of very good success but many more where the outcome is questionable.  

I have been calling for a thorough review of the who, what, when and where of economic development in New Brunswick and I think an election is the perfect time to trigger such a review.   I think we have gotten into a stream of activity  and are spending more and more in that stream each year – and I am not sure it is the right stream. 

I won’t dive back into all my concerns here – read the past few months worth of posts – but it has something to do with vision/focus, something to do with effective measurement (i.e. tax dollars generated per e.d. dollar spent) and something to do with passion – people being fired up about economic development at all levels.

I think we need to focus on a few key strategic sectors, build infrastructure, R&D, talent, promotion and excitment around them – and then sell, sell, sell – to anyone local – national – international that will listen.

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One Response to A lion of N.S. industry in winter

  1. Cod Father says:

    I too had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Manuge on the phone and have high praise for what IEL did in Nova Scotia. It looks like Alward is going to re-invent the wheel by creating some kind of IEL type organization for investment attraction.

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