I have never fully understood why many New Brunswickers are suspicious of people and companies that are not from here. Maybe it’s because of our small size or because so many people leave to find opportunity elsewhere. Maybe we just don’t trust the motives of people looking to invest or move here.
I have heard the phrase “Why would any company want to move to New Brunswick?” more than a few times in my lifetime.
For whatever reason, we don’t like people and companies that “come from away” and that is too bad because it is keeping New Brunswick from reaching its full potential. If I was sitting in the big chair up in Fredericton, I would throw the doors wide open and attract in great companies and all kinds of talented people.
We have lost tens of thousands of highly skilled workers to careers elsewhere and billions of dollars’ worth of our savings to investments in other parts of the world over the past few decades. I’d like to get a little of that back.
I was thinking about this last week when reading about “Chilecon Valley” in the Economist magazine. A Chilean businessman has set up a program called “Start-Up Chile” to attract people from around the world who have good start-up ideas. These immigrant entrepreneurs move to Chile, are given the equivalent of $40,000 (U.S.) and are put through a program to validate and develop their business concept.
The Economist reports that since the program started in 2010 approximately 900 entrepreneurs from 37 countries have taken part.
One of the main reasons why the public and private sector got on board with Start-Up Chile was the perceived need to foster a technology-based start-up culture in the country. It seems to be working as almost 40 percent of the recent round of applications were from Chilean entrepreneurs.
These days it is very hard for ambitious immigrant entrepreneurs to get into the United States. Chile has jumped into the breach and offered them an interesting alternative.
Why couldn’t we do that in New Brunswick? We are a lot closer to the lucrative U.S.market than Chile. We share a common language and have similar laws. In addition, Chile apparently has limited venture capital and what the Economist calls a “harsh bankruptcy regime”. Seems like New Brunswick would be a far better choice for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs.
Setting up a similar program in New Brunswick would be easy. Government and private investors would give Trevor MacAusland over at PropelICT a few million dollars which he
would use to promote a Start-Up New Brunswick competition – not much different than his current program only targeting folks from outside the province and around the world.
We would bring in hundreds of aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs and hopefully dozens would stay and build their businesses here. As in Chile, it would likely spur much more entrepreneurial spirit among the local population.
When the former Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel went through its massive restructuring a few years ago, I recommended that Business New Brunswick staff should go to Ottawa and stand outside the firm’s
head office with placards reading “Dumped by Nortel and thinking about starting your own business? Come to New Brunswick”.
No one took up my idea then and it is very doubtful any kind of immigrant start-up competition will be developed now because of the attitude described above. People will say “that money should be given to New Brunswickers” or something to that effect.
We have to start looking at the big picture. The flow of investment and talent has been overwhelmingly outward for decades. We must begin to reverse the flow if we hope to have a sustainable economy moving forward.