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.