As you know I have been writing and talking more lately about the need for a new partnership with industry when it comes to economic development. I have written about the challenges associated with this in the past but I continue to strengthen in my view that governments are not particularly good at economic development.
I spent a little time this week with an interesting sector group here in Ontario that seems to have real opportunity for growth and a strong willingness for the industry to take the lead – put its own money on the table – to work on collectively growing the sector including attracting new players into the industry. The government and economic development agency here would play a support role.
I know this is done in limited ways already but I think there is much more opportunity. We challenge the industry – whatever that industry looks like – to come up with a viable growth path – and build a business plan covering how to get there. That plan would have elements that impact government – maybe workforce development, R&D, tax incentives, attracting in firms, etc. but would be not just about government. Industry leaders would take the lead for the development and others would play a support role.
Critically, the industry would put its own money on the table. I don’t have a problem with government providing funding but I think that when you have skin in the game it changes things. It brings more clarity and a focus on getting a return on the dollars invested. When it is just the government’s money, we can be more cavalier.
I realize the inherent flaws in this approach but I am not sure what the alternatives are.
There needs to be a clear business case in order for companies to invest in a jurisdiction. Because we are not talking about local markets (i.e. the local legal services market), there needs to be a clear value proposition for export-oriented sectors to invest here versus hundreds of other options. I think that value proposition can be more strongly formed with industry, academia and government in the same room – in a serious, committed relationship.
It does take a change of attitude by all players. Industry has to move from a me-me-me attitude to an us-us-us attitude and government has to take somewhat of a backseat – a supporting role.