Jim Meek has a good editorial in Progress magazine this week. Edgy and more caustic than usual, Meek makes the point that we have to face up to our challenges and not just gloss them over. Progress magazine – in name and substance – is a publication that celebrates entrepreneurial success in this region. I know from the couple of times I wrote for them that they aren’t much into negativism or deep navel gazing. And that’s fine. Progress is what it is. But even in that haven of positive thinking, it is nice to see a guy like Meek – known and respected in this region – making these important points.
His title “charge of the light-thinking brigade” is a powerful one if you have read up on that battle (and the Tennyson poem). I recently read Orlando Figue’s wonderful but disturbing book on the Crimean War and as a result I took special interest when I saw his column.
As I have said before many times we have two audiences and we need to have the wisdom to separate them. To the external audience, potential investors, potential entrepreneurs, immigrants, etc. we need to promote our strengths and the opportunities that are here. To the internal audience, we need to celebrate our successes but at the same time we need to have sober and honest discussions about our challenges – about what holds us back. In a deeply conservative place like the Maritimes (small c conservative), we don’t like this kind of discussion. The issue of EI reform is a perfect example. Instead of having an intelligent conversation about the premise of the reforms – i.e. that EI was holding back business investment in rural areas – most of the response is singularly focused on how the changes will hurt these communities. That may or may not be true – as I have said we don’t have the research to support either response – but I was disheartened that our only response as a region was demanding a return to the status quo.
We need to figure out how to foster a new generation of high growth potential entrepreneurs. We have a few examples – Radian6, Ocean Nutrition, etc. but we need more.
We need to attract more anchor export-oriented multinationals. Increasingly these firms are moving back ‘onshore’ Dell, GE, Apple, many more – we need to promote this region as a great place to build products, services and new technologies.
We need to attract talent –
We need to figure out how to address rural decline in this region. Natural resources development must be a part of this. The vision of rural areas as quiet, retirement villages is not sustainable.
Kudos to Progress Magazine – through Meek – for joining the ranks of the curmudgeons. We need cheerleaders – yes. But we need cranky folks point out our weak spots as well.