By popular demand: My Economic Development Magnum Opus

Well, not really by popular demand but I was asked by someone to choose 4-5 of the top themes that I think are important if we are to move New Brunswick’s economy ahead.

  • We must move from a financial program-centric to an opportunities approach to economic development: big opportunities (open government, smart grid), small opportunities (immigrant farmers in Carleton County) or highly targeted opportunities (Amazon, Walmart regional warehouses in Moncton).  Now the model is 80% business financing programs/20% opportunities – we need to flip that to 20/80.
  • We need to implement an ROTI model (return on taxpayer investment) – all investments in economic development should be able to demonstrate a return on the taxpayers’ investment.
  • We need to turbocharge the workforce – Less worry on short term interprovincial migration and more concern for long term impact on business investment decisions arising from a tight labour market.
  • We need to target high growth potential entrepreneurs (HGPEs) not just our current small business fetish – we need to create the environment for these HGPEs – not just small business owners/lifestyle businesses.  We want to be an environment where it is easy for small businesses to enter and exit the business playing field – we want to encourage lots of local competition and dynamic local markets.  But our growth strategies need to be focused on those entrepreneurs that want to use NB as a base to build a global business.
  • We need to focus on attracting investment – particularly investment that fosters product or services export growth.    This can be greenfield (i.e. attracting an Amazon fulfilment centre) or investment into HGPEs.  We spend way too much of our effort trying to squeeze more investment out of the local business community.  Between PNB, ACOA, CBDCs, local agencies, NRC, NBIF, etc. we have somewhere in the range of 300-350 people working in economic development in New Brunswick – not a single one located out in the actual world where the trade, investment and immigrant opportunities actually exist.
  • We need to break New Brunswick’s culture of apathy.  We have gotten used to being at or near the bottom among the 10 provinces across most economic and demographic metrics.  New Brunswickers need to believe their province can change, can address its big challenges and can become a younger, multicultural, growing and dynamic place that is developing growth industries – including natural resources – in a responsible and sustainable way.  Do we want to be one big retirement village heavily reliant on the federal government to pay the freight or do we want to be a dynamic place that is growing and increasingly self-sufficient?  If New Brunswickers tacitly choose the former it will make it almost impossible to turn things around in any kind of sustained way.
  • We need to fully engage local government and local community and business leaders in our economic development efforts.
  • We need a more intelligent partnership with the federal government that is based on its strengths – global trade and investment infrastructure, immigration policy, etc. not on increasing transfer payments.  It is imperative the federal government share our vision for a growing and dynamic New Brunswick and see itself in that vision.  If Ontario’s economy looked like New Brunswick’s does now – five years of virtually no real GDP growth, declining employment, shrinking labour market- it would be an international crisis.  The OECD would weigh in on “what is wrong with Canada’s economic engine”.  When it is New Brunswick, we all shrug and say “that’s just New Brunswick”.
  • We need to be able to develop our natural resources in a sustainable and responsible fashion.  In the past 10-15 years Saskatchewan has used hydraulic fracturing to develop its oil resources and significantly expanded its other mining operations including uranium.  In New Brunswick we have viscerally reacted to any talk of using hydraulic fracturing and after a few little red signs started appearing in windows and on bumper stickers uranium mining never even got off the drawing board.
  • We need an urban growth agenda.  If you go back to the 1950s until today, rural population growth in New Brunswick was fairly similar to the rest of the country (modest increase).  It was urban growth where we lagged substantially.  Across Canada, the urban population grew by more than 18 million over that period and it grew only modestly in New Brunswick.  An urban growth agenda should not be pitted as an “either-or” with rural New Brunswick.  We need to have strategy to develop opportunities where they are – urban or rural.
  • We need to focus on innovation – across the spectrum.  A small province should be able to make decisions faster and be more nimble that the larger, unwieldy jurisdictions.  Now it seems like the opposite.  It seems to take longer here than in larger places.  Meghan Trainor is bringing booty back.  I want to bring back the “living lab” vision for New Brunswick.
  • When messaging we need to target our audiences.  Almost all stories in the national media relating to New Brunswick are negative. Business leaders, immigrants and other key groups see these stories.  We need to change the national narrative.  New Brunswick is a place of unlimited opportunity.  Its urban centres have substantial room to grow.  It has considerable natural resources.  It is the new frontier – ready for a sustained era of economic and population growth.  At the same time, we have to share with our internal stakeholders the real state of the union – the urgency – to break the culture of apathy described above.
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One Response to By popular demand: My Economic Development Magnum Opus

  1. “We need to implement an ROTI model (return on taxpayer investment) – all investments in economic development should be able to demonstrate a return on the taxpayers’ investment.”

    But some investments will fail – that has to be OK as well. Otherwise, we are being too risk-adverse. Goal perhaps should be an overall positive ROI.

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