Moncton 2030: Drones, driverless trucks and political primacy

One of the things that was missing from the 2014 Economic Summit compared to 1994’s version was the lack of futurist/future thinking.

That was deliberate as the goals of the summit were to rally the stakeholders around a shared model for economic development and to get insight from business leaders into where growth opportunities lie – in the short to medium term.

What Greater Moncton will look like in the long term involves a different conversation and requires alignment of trends with the region’s core, long term strengths and value proposition.  It is an important conversation but not meant for last Thursday and Friday.

In the longer term, the economic development strategy needs to focus on ensuring the region is cranking out ambitious, globally-connected entrepreneurs and attracting world beating companies in growth industries.  These firms will need to adapt to emerging trends and many will have the capital and brains to do so.

UPS  may end up with a drones division delivering packages right to your door using drones – Amazon is currently piloting this idea.

Midland Transport may end up with a driverless trucks division – based on the Google car platform already being put to use in Nevada.

Greater Moncton’s call centre industry might end up as a completely virtual sector where local firms are building applications using the IBM Watson platform where intelligent, talking computers interact directly with customers.

Greater Moncton’s retail sector may end up with only one-tenth the employment base it has today as employee-less stores become the norm.   If you have to shop locally at all (remember the drones), you will not require a check out person or sales person at all.

Greater Moncton’s geographic advantage will not disappear and may even strengthen.  If Maritime Union is thrust on the region (remember my prediction for 2026), that puts Moncton at the hub of a political union and could be very beneficial for a wide range of services.

It would be hard to envision a world 2030 where New Brunswick isn’t using its natural gas resources.  This will have some implication for the Greater Moncton region.

Or something else will occur.  In the long term, again, the key objective of economic development must be ensuring that great entrepreneurs and world class companies are located in this region and are adapting to technological advances.

It is interesting, however; to note that even my examples involve the elimination of thousands of jobs.  If you read Tyler Cowan’s new book – Average is Over – you will find a fairly dystopian view of 2030 where there is a small, professional and very rich class – the 15 percent – and everyone else – aging retirees on small public pensions and low skilled services workers in jobs that haven’t been converted to machines yet – home care, etc.

While not an expert on the subject, I think the economy will adapt better than that.   We live in a democracy and jobs are vital to political stability.

In the end, I think it would be wise for New Brunswick to have a small group of folks – maybe in a university setting – mapping emerging trends to possibly development ideas for New Brunswick.  But, again, governments in this part of the world see their role when it comes to economic development as mostly one of banker – providing taxpayer dollars to try and stimulate start-ups, trade, etc.  The idea of carving off a million bucks a year to fund a futurist think tank is likely a non-starter.

So we cobble it together as we go along.

 

 

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One Response to Moncton 2030: Drones, driverless trucks and political primacy

  1. I’ve read enough of Tyler Cowan (far too much, actually) to know that he is predicting this dystopian outcome not simply because he expects it, but because he *wants* it. It’s a far more common perspective, especially among the privileged, than people realize. It’s the same sort of logic that propels Kevin O’Leary’s remarks. http://t.co/dtiBf1VgLM

    In New Brunswick, we have an economy that has already shaped itself into the 15% – 85% divide, and the pressure from the top few percent is not to create a more equitable society, but rather to push that 15% to an even smaller number (mostly by ensuring any professional service is privately provided and removing the bulk of quality public service jobs).

    I would like to think that we will respond rather better, but if today’s elite sees us relying on natural gas in 2030 – after 16 more years of rising temperatures and increasingly erratic weather – then it’s not clear that they are thinking of anything other than in this lifeboat scenario. An economy and development strategy that is thinking of the 85% is looking more broadly at distributed and sustainable energy sources (among many other strategies also not being pursued).

    I would like to think that we live in a democracy and that the will of the people will ensure that the right action is taken. But I see no relation between the one and the other – if our democracy has ever expressed the will of the people, it is far from doing that now. Political stability is irrelevant if the people in control have enough power – and surely the fully armed response to the shale gas protests is a sign that the power is available, and will be used. We’ve seen enough things like the G8-G20 security crackdown to know that this is true.

    The economy has already reached the point where (despite lipservice to the contrary) it doesn’t really need the consumer to be successful; it merely needs to serve the 15 (or less) percent. I see this in New Brunswick, where all enterprise is warped around the idea of serving the Irvings and McCains. I see it in the wider economy as well. It is actually a better business strategy, and certainly an easier one, to focus on making the already rich richer; they at least will pay you (a little) for your efforts; the poor can’t raise a dime let alone vote with their dollars.

    On my cynical days I don’t think there’s a way out of this, and contemplate whether it would have been better to sign up with the 15% crowd. I certainly know enough people both personally and professionally who have. There’s always a good reason. But these days are few; my allegiance is still with the 85% (or the 99%, when it comes down to that), and while these people definitely don’t pay as well, and while it looks like a bad economic development strategy to serve them, I think that the only society worth having is one in which we’re all in the same boat, together.

    I’ve said this before: until we reshape New Brunswick into an equitable society, there’s no point having an economic development strategy, because this strategy will serve only the 15%, and deliberately and cynically leave the rest to drown.

    This is what a small and independent group of futurists would say to the people and government of New Brunswick. But those in authority here prefer not to hear expert opinions; they prefer to hear their own sock puppets, or those of the wealthy and well-connected who control them.

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