Cluster thinking still matters

I am crossing my fingers that the new government will finally understand the critical importance for  New Brunswick to take a very serious cluster-based approach to economic development.  In the past, we have not done this – I challenge you to name for me a single sector where a serious partnership between government, industry, education and community leaders have come together and developed/implemented a plan that led to significant growth in an industry sector.  The call centre industry wasn’t a true cluster development effort – it was more of an investment attraction effort (which is part of, but only one part of  cluster development).

I don’t know enough about the aquaculture industry – that might qualify as an early version of one but that goes back to the late 1980s.

I won’t restate all the reasons why this matters but certainly the “cheap labour” economic development model has run its course.   The “lots of available, relatively low wage workers” economic development model is no longer applicable.  The “sprinkle taxpayer money around the province to a wide variety of SMEs and cross your fingers that it will lead to economic development” model has never been shown to work.  And the “cut small business taxes and red tape” model has not worked so well either.

So, maybe this time, we are to the point where we realize that a deliberate effort to build the value proposition and the capacity for specific sectors of the economy to grow is the best model moving forward.

New Brunswick, in my opinion, has resisted cluster-based thinking because it is in our DNA to want to be all things to all people.  This comes from being the most widely dispersed population in Canada (maybe North America) – as measured by the lack of population concentration in one or two urban centres.  There has always been a greater need to sprinkle money and development around.

Cluster-based development doesn’t necessarily mean that certain areas of the province will be left behind.   It will force everyone to be more focused – provincially and locally.

A change in political leadership is the ideal time to rethink things.  The true, however; is that virtually the entire braintrust of the new Tory government is from the old Tory government – that was very much about sprinkling and cutting small biz taxes. 

Hopefully you can teach old dogs new tricks.

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2 Responses to Cluster thinking still matters

  1. mikel says:

    Have to disagree with you here, as would Richard I think, with his argument that this is the reason MORE international industry is required-because of the clout that current industries have-I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him say that explicitly-and yes I’m tagging that on for more support.

    I remember years ago, here I think it was, that somebody posted that they were in a specific industry that was looking for funding, and they were denied based on ‘cluster thinking’. It may have even been as recent as Graham’s St. John ‘energy hub’ idea. If you had anything to do with energy and you WEREN”T in St. John you were out of luck. And thats just poor planning.

    As for government and industry, lets be serious now. Spielo Gaming practically runs the department of education, even puts signs in the classrooms. Sadly, this hasn’t translated to more programmers. With the economy switching to digital, I’m convinced that the ONLY ‘language’ kids should be taught in school is C++ and/or Actionscript.

    In aquaculture, if ‘cluster thinking’ leads to current practices where the lobster population is wiped out by cypermethrin, well, once again, if you are looking for reasons behind NBers cynicism regarding industry-look no further.

  2. richard says:

    For this kind of focus to be sellable politically, there would need to be some broad support to give it political traction. That’s not there right now and it would be hard to generate given the short term outlook (and desperation) many have.

    Of course, it could be done by stealth. That is, don’t announce it as a policy just see to it that the required incentives, etc, move in that direction. Sort of like what is happening re the unis and the community colleges. Remember the uproar when Graham tried to merge some unis and colleges into polytechniques? Well, he seemed to back down, and yet both UNBSJ and UNB will soon have large community colleges on their campuses; watch for budgets over the next few years to force admins of these orgs to merge.

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