From a recent column in the TJ:
A journalist once asked me to name the single most important factor that contributed to the success of the Greater Moncton economy over the past 30 years.
There are a number of potential answers to that question.
The region’s geography gives it a natural advantage as a distribution, retail and tourism hub. It has been able to attract national and international firms to a greater extent than most other Atlantic Canadian communities. There have been a number of transformational business and political leaders that have positively impacted the community’s economic trajectory.
A variety of factors have contributed to the region’s economic and population growth over the years but if forced to choose one that stands out above the others, my answer is the Université de Moncton.
The Université de Moncton celebrated its 50th anniversary this week. The university was founded in June 19, 1963, from the combination of the St. Joseph’s College in Memramcook, the College of the Sacred Heart in Bathurst and the College St. Louis in Edmundston. Its main campus is in Moncton and it has satellites in Edmundston and Shippagan.
In the past 50 years, the university has influenced the Greater Moncton economy in many ways. First, it is a substantial contributor to the local economy. The Moncton campus spends more than $100 million a year in the local area. If you include indirect and induced impacts, the university annually supports some 1,800 jobs across the province.
Second, the university has elevated the overall level of educational attainment in the hub city and surrounding area. The francophone population in Greater Moncton is one of the most educated in Canada among mid- and large-sized urban areas. According to the 2006 Census, more than 28 percent of francophones between the ages of 25 and 64 have a university certificate, diploma or degree.
Nearly 38 percent of francophones between the ages of 25 and 34 living in the Moncton urban area have a university certificate, diploma or degree compared with only 25 percent in that age group across the province.
Data from the 2011 census on this subject will be released later this month and should reaffirm these trends.
Third, the university has been an incubator for ambitious and influential entrepreneurs.
Many UdeM graduates from the 1970s and 1980s describe a campus environment that was heavily tilted toward socialism. One of my former bosses, while a student at the university, visited Central America to lend moral support to the communist rebels fighting their oppressors. He’s gone on to be a great capitalist.
Regardless of its ideological leanings, the university became a factory for successful entrepreneurs in sectors such as construction, retail, food services, manufacturing, finance and professional services. Many of the Moncton region’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders from the 1980s until the present day are graduates.
I see the Université de Moncton continuing to play a crucial role not only for the Greater Moncton region but also for the rest of New Brunswick. It is already becoming an important conduit for ambitious immigrants looking to build their careers in Canada. I see the potential of the university attracting thousands of international students who could be converted into skilled workers and highly motivated entrepreneurs over the next couple of decades.
UdeM, like the other post-secondary educational institutions across New Brunswick, will have a key role to play in the innovation agenda both by turning out skilled graduates but also by furthering a robust research agenda.
Happy 50th anniversary to the Université de Moncton. Here’s hoping your next 50 years will only build on your role as a catalyst for progress and prosperity in New Brunswick.