A few years ago (circa 2006), I chaired a panel of business leaders in New Brunswick. I asked them all to provide their outlook for the province over the next decade. There were five people on the panel and four out of five had a negative outlook on the province’s economy. It turns out they were right. S
It was deja vu this week as I had another group of five business leaders on a panel and I asked them whether they were bullish, bearish or somewhere in the middle on the prospects for New Brunswick over the next few years. All of them were either neutral to negative.
One of the business leaders talked about how his firm had planned for growth throughout the 1960s, 1970s, etc, and now there were more or less resigned to the fact their consumer market in New Brunswick was either stagnant or declining and they were going to have to meet this challenge – the challenge of stagnation or decline.
I worry about this because there is some chicken and egg in this equation. If businesses are worried about the future they are less likely to think about expanding here and that then fuels the stagnation. At least two of the businesses on the panel in 2006 have deployed substantial capital outside New Brunswick in the intervening years and very little here.
I talked with an economist earlier in the week who is mostly convinced New Brunswick is in for a long period of GDP growth in the 1 percent range. We may get a little lift from a pipeline here or a few gas wells there but he isn’t optimistic that even with a developing shale gas industry the province will get to a level of growth beyond 1 percent or so per year.
I’m not that pessimistic but I do think we are entering into uncharted waters.
Fundamentally, we do need to get some kind of mojo back.
I come back to my spiel about the need to have different messages for different audiences. We have to be able to open up the kimono and talk about our challenges amongst ourselves while projecting a positive image externally. Ignoring our problems won’t make them go away.
It’s not as bad as some will tell you – the wheels are not ready to fall off. But for those who think we just need to wait for things to blow over – that too is naïve.
What we need is leaders – in the Department of Finance, other government departments, businesses, universities, communities – thinking a little less about how to manage the inevitable decline and thinking a little more about how to stimulate growth.