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 The “lots of available, relatively low wage workers” economic development model is no longer applicable.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.