How bad do you want it?

I had one of those conversations over the weekend with a thoughtful guy who is just convinced that places like New Brunswick can’t really build any competitive new industry clusters.  We are just too far out of the way, too small, too ignored by government, etc. etc. etc.   He thinks the best we can hope for is to use our natural resources, and hope that a few local entrepreneurs – who are attached to the place – step up and build companies.  When big companies take over NB firms (like salesforce.com) he thinks that eventually, they will close it and move the work to California or somewhere else.

When I mention the call centre industry, he told me that was an aberration.  A fluke because we had all this cheap, bilingual labour at a time when all these big companies were expanding their call centre needs rapidly.  He said that can’t be repeated again.

The truth is it could be repeated.  Not in exactly the same way but it could be repeated.

Think about the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.  Here is the summary from its website:

One of the oldest and largest science parks in North America, The Research Triangle Park (RTP) is a 7,000 acre development that is home to more than 170 companies employing over 38,000 full-time knowledge workers. Located at the core of the Raleigh-Durham-Cary CSA (Combined Statistical Area), RTP is a globally prominent high-technology research and development center that serves as an economic driver for the region.  RTP is home to a broad spectrum of companies — from Fortune 100 multinational research and development operations, to university spin-outs and start-up operations. In addition, a number of U.S. federal agencies have a presence in the Park.

I lived inVirginia for six years and visited North Carolina on many occasions.  No one will ever tell me that North Carolina circa 1980 was that much more developed than New Brunswick.  Even today its education levels, persons under the poverty line, literacy, etc. are similar to New Brunswick.

And yet the RTP was developed from virtually nothing in North Carolina.  It had a solid base of federal government research institutions, strong support and influence from the university, a pile of incentives, an international team of people promoting it to global research companies, a little luck, etc.  But it was built in a place not too dissimilar from New Brunswick, Canada.

There are dozens of examples of this.

Anyone who says categorically that New Brunswick cannot foster growth industries is not basing their position on facts.

Of course, I never said it would be easy.  If it was easy, there would be no chronically poor regions.

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6 Responses to How bad do you want it?

  1. richard says:

    “Think about the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.”

    So others have made something from nothing. The real question for me is: what led NC to move in that direction? What leadership made that happen? That is what we need to replicate here. Instead we seem to have a business class that prefers to whine about the minimum wage.

    We need an LJR, rather than a someone with a desperate need to consult.

  2. westquaco says:

    Not sure I buy the southern comparisons to NB for one reason: population density and geography. Demographically, yes, the comparisons are apt. But N.B. isn’t comparably close to anything like the D.C. area as a hub of intellectual and economic activity. If we were a closer to Toronto or Montreal/Ottawa? Maybe.

  3. Derrick says:

    David,
    I believe that a change in the NB tax rate charged on incoming 1-800
    call terminations is the prime reason that call centers took-off
    in the late 80’s early 90’s. Plus lots of Gov money, heaps and heaps to the call center’s and NB telephone, every day in the 90’s Nortel stuff was shipped in. Once at a meeting a guy told that he returned a million dollars that was not required, he was sent back to get it !!

  4. Not disputing your main point, which I support, but…

    – North Carolina had a population of just under 6 million in 1980, much more than New Brunswick has ever had
    – This population had grown to just under 10 million by 2009, a far greater increase than native New Brunswickers are prepared to tolerate (source: U.S. Census Bureau http://bit.ly/iEruEY )

  5. anon says:

    Anchor companies are a factor in economic success stories. In New Brunswick, it took a progressive NB Tel, with headquarters in Saint John, to put leading edge infrastructure in place. The bilingual workforce, government incentives and all the visionaries who claim credit for the contact center success fell into place after the anchor company executed its vision.

    Wiki (or drive through) Research Triangle Park and you’ll see an extensive list of anchor companies like ABB, BASF, Bayer, Cisco, GE, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel and many others. These companies stimulate additional growth through suppliers, spin off and splinter companies.

    While much of our focus has been on population decline, perhaps more concerning is the decline of anchor companies like NB Tel. Our ED strategy has to include attracting new anchor companies.

  6. scott says:

    I think, like NB, North Carolina has to do something about the way they go about business. Luring companies with subsidies, grants and tax incentives does not grow the economy in the long run. Just think about the Dell case (or the fading call centre industry here that was heavily subsidized): Dell Closing North Carolina Plant

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