Getting industry associations/professional groups more involved

As with most ideas that seem a little far fetched, there are 10 naysayers to one keener – I met a keener yesterday talking about my column on legal outsourcing.  He is a non-practicing lawyer but said he has been thinking for several years about how New Brunswick lawyers could take on more national work. 

As we chatted, I realized the main problem is the lack of a champion to move the idea forward.    In general, lawyers aren’t particularly good at business development (except the guys on the billboards) and stepping beyond that into the realm of trying to generate national or international business is virtually impossible.

There needs to be someone or some organization to test concepts such as this.  Industry associations or professional groups acting on behalf of the whole might be a good conduit. 

For legal outsourcing, someone needs to determine if there is an actual business case.  They need to look at what India is doing, look at the model, the types of work being done, the rates being charged, all other aspects – and see if these is a business case (my friend believes there would be).  Then someone needs to aggressively sell this concept to potential clients be they large law firms or their large clients who are tired of paying $500/hour for basic legal tasks (at least that is the NYC rate).

This could be done by one of the larger law firms in NB but that is not the ideal conduit if we are looking at a broader economic development opportunity.  Plus, the big firms may want to charge their fully burdened hourly rates and may not be able to generate a business case.  Someone has to figure out if there is a way to make money on volume, relatively repetitive legal tasks at $100-$125/hour.

Beyond legal outsourcing, I’d like to see a wide variety of industry associations/groups stepping up with ideas.  Think about other professional services, ICT, manufacturing, forestry, mining – whatever – they look at what are the big trends in their industry and use their expert knowledge to help government and economic development organizations figure out how that could be translated into opportunity here.

The problem is that we have for the most part either weak or non-existent industry associations and the ones we have are focused on a narrow set of challenges facing their current client base – not on opportunities for growth.

Imagine, for example, an industry association in New Brunswick – say the aerospace and defence group (does that still exist?) – developing a business case for attracting aerospace firms to New Brunswick.   I talked a couple of years ago to a major supplier to the industry (based in NB) and he said it would do wonders for the industry to have one or more of the majors physically located here – but……

I know ACOA was gungho to support the growth of industry associations (under the capacity building theory) 15-20 years ago or so but they all but gave up on this after this it only led to more golf tournaments and industry directories. 

For industry associations to be attractive, they need to be helping us figure out growth opportunities.  Theoretically, no one should be more plugged into trends and opportunities than the people working directly in the industries. 

I think it’s worth taking another stab at the industry association/professional association route in New Brunswick as a conduit to help identify and flesh out economic development opportunities.  But the associations have to be able to take of their firm-level hats and put on an industry-level hat.

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2 Responses to Getting industry associations/professional groups more involved

  1. I have found industry associations to be very difficult clients. Decisions are often done by committee and no one has any “skin in the game”. People attracted to be executive directors are not entrepreneurs. They are people who want a stable income. They are skilled at dealing with boards that can be quite large, with diverging opinions. The ED is usually more of a diplomat than an innovator.

    If the associations have been in existence for any length of time, they tend to stick to the tried & true mainstream options. Industry associations are not where I would look for innovation or an entrepreneurial mindset.

  2. mikel says:

    I couldn’t agree more-plus the above comment. I’d just like to give an example from here in Waterloo. A while ago I made an erroneous statement on this blog about the local ‘innovation center’ being empty. Some readers may remember that within minutes Gary (momentarily forgot his last name) posted how full of it I was.

    This guy is, I hate to say, what I hoped Mr. Campbell would be for NB, but unfortunately unlike Gary, the ‘powers that be’ are in opposition, not support. Since moving to Waterloo over a decade ago (God, will I ever get out of here?) Gary has been a one man force in starting associations, getting industry members, and flogging to the world about their every action. I don’t always agree, I’m a little miffed my tax dollars go to help purchase buildings for companies that should be able to do so themselves,and I don’t like that every natural view of the city has been replaced by a RIM building, however, the point here is that this guy is a combination entrepreneur/negotiator/cheerleader.

    And I THINK it has really helped get things done. Like I said, I don’t always agree, but here in Waterloo government, industry, research, ALWAYS seem to talk with one voice to ‘get things done’. Personally I’m not crazy about it, like when, OK, stay focused-Gary WILL, that’s his name, and its a very fitting one. As you may have noticed, unless David emailed him telling him about the article, this guy does daily text searches for blogs all over the world that may even MENTION the Waterloo region.

    My point is that I agree with Harold, its doubtful much will come from industry associaitions-if it hasn’t already, it probably won’t. It really has to be a grassroots thing, and that will grow into a full time job. Unfortunately, what you need is a Gary Will for industries that DON”T EVEN EXIST. Because as I’ve said before, NB is already pretty much a business run province. From the grassroots level, IF it ever comes to pass that people find out just how much money government *&^es away on ‘consultants’ then perhaps some of these companies will need to be a little more ‘hungry’ for clients. I notice that TJ Burke melded back into his law practise with lots of government clients (the police officer who beat on the army guy) pretty easily.

    If you really want to learn how these things can get done-I’d suggest talking to Gary Will. Hmmm, if you ever consider starting up your video or audio podcast again, I’ll help you find content:)

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