Enterprise Greater Moncton, the organization that is mandated to coordinated economic development in the region, is expected to announce they have hired a new CEO sometime this week. The position has been vacant for five months after the former CEO, Ron Gaudet, left the position early in the summer.
I have a little advice for the incoming CEO – take it for what its worth. In my estimation if he does the following things, Enterprise Greater Moncton will be successful and by extention our community will reap economic benefits:
1. Bring the communities together. Enterprise Greater Moncton works with the three urban municipalities. Each has different wants and there is some rivalry and tension. EGM needs to rise above the fray and work for the greater good of the region. Having said that, the municipalities are the biggest funders and beneficiaries of EGM’s work. Therefore, a lot of time and effort must be expended to understand their needs and ensure that EGM is reflecting the goals and priorities of the three communities.
2. Take a regional leadership position. It’s time to put aside the petty politics and oneupmanship that has characterized relationships between Greater Moncton and the two other main urban areas in New Brunswick. We should celebrate the successes of our sister communities and work together on areas of common interest. Saint John, as I have said elsewhere, needs all the help it can get.
3. Make immigration a key priority. Greater Moncton’s labour market growth throughout the last 15 years has come primarily at the expense of other communities in New Brunswick. While Greater Moncton has boomed, our rural and northern communities have suffered. The net effect on the economy of the province has been negative (population decline overall). Any new labour market growth should come from other provinces and immigrants. And the province should have a serious strategy for rural and northern economic development (here’s a hint – emptying out the Acadian Peninsula is not a good economic development strategy). We need to make Greater Moncton a top location for people to move. Make it a welcome place. Remove roadblocks, ease transition. Watch out – Saint John has a leg up on this already.
4. Find the next big anchor growth industry. The call centre industry anchored GMs growth over the past 10 years bringing thousands of new jobs and the spinoffs have resulted in increased retail, entertainment and other service jobs. This industry will most likely consolidate in the next ten years as more and more people use the self-service Web to book their hotels, buy their goods and do their complaining. Without a new anchor industry, Greater Moncton may not be able to sustain its growth.
5. Don’t allow petty bickering and vested interests to get in the way. Anytime a region or an organization has some success, there is a tendancy for more in-fighting and less cooperation. That is happening in Greater Moncton. We need to put aside vested interests and pettiness and work for the common good.
6. Provide strong leadership. The biggest complaint I hear from economic developers across Atlantic Canada is that there has been no leadership on this issue for years – not locally, provincially or nationally. This is not a phantom issue. The new CEO of EGM needs to drive a stake in the ground and be determined to achieve the goals of the new strategic plan. People are constantly complaining about the lack of leadership from the province and the Premier on the issue of economic development. Well, in my way of thinking, its up this community, as the largest and most effective in the province, to set the tone. To come up with new ideas, to lead the charge. Hopefully, the province will come on board for the ride.
Above all, the tone among the development community in this region has to change back to the approach of the early 1990s where there was a sense that everyone was working together for the good of the region. In the words of the venerable philospher, Stark Trek’s Spock “As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create”.
Once in a while a light bulb goes off. Most economic developers would agree that the single biggest deterrent to growth in New Brunswick (and Atlantic Canada for that matter) has been the lack of foreign business investment. This investment is critical to support a growing economy, generate new jobs and stimulate local business activity.
However, one of the main reasons why Atlantic Canada has not been able to attract new foreign business investment is a lack of knowledge about our region and its benefits. ACOA and the provincial governments have spent some time and money trying to promote the region in foreign markets but has not had much success attracting investment.
That brings us to Anne. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourists (most likely millions over the past few decades) have visited Prince Edward Island to feed their interesting obsession with Anne of Green Gables. For whatever reason, Anne is more popular in Japan than in Canada.
The Japanese invest billions of dollars every year in North America – and not one penny of that investment has gone into PEI. This strikes me as very odd. In PEI, you have probably the most visited and one of the most familiar locations in North America to the Japanese and yet no one has attempted to leverage this good will into business investment. How come PEI is not identifying the business people that are bringing their families over to see Anne and then following them back to Japan to promote the merits of setting up a business on the Island?
And that brings us to New Brunswick. We have a similarily odd situation right here. New Brunswick is a very active member of the Francophonie and is second only to Quebec in the pervasiveness of the French language in North America. Yet, of the billions invested by French companies in North America in recent decades, none of it came here. What is even more odd is that Nova Scotia has been able to attract some French investment. Michelin, Composites Atlantic, Eastern Optical Labs and LaFarge all are either French companies or have investment from French companies.
The Premier waxes long and poetic about the value of the Francophonie and the role of New Brunswick. He makes international trips and makes eloquent sound bites but still no French companies have set up in the province.
It’s time for New Brunswick’s economic developers to leverage this good will and unique advantage into business investment. It is shameful that Nova Scotia has been able to attract numerous French business investments while New Brunswick has attracted none.
The New Brunswick government’s recent decision to increasing spending to fix the potholes in the province’s roads was greeted with great enthusiasm by MLAs. It turns out that these potholes generate the most calls to MLA offices (at least in rural communities). This, once again, illustrates my contention that we need to have a public dialogue on the issue of the economy and economic development. Rural plants and factories are closing, mines are winding down, unemployment is over 13% in rural communities, youth out-migration is high – and the number one issue on the minds of the voters is potholes.
You know the old saying – you get the government you deserve.
I have said elsewhere in this blog that the current government in New Brunswick is highly tuned to the opinions found in the province’s media outlets. We have seen them over the past five years adjust their strategies based on the griping and complaining found between the pages of the three major English language and one major French language newspapers.
Despite a continuing population decline, the closure of major rural employers and the continuing overall economic challenges facing the province, there was almost no mention of economic development by the Premier at the Conservative annual meeting last weekend. All of the newspapers reported on and rendered opinions on this event. In all cases, none of the newspapers even questioned the lack of focus on the economy. None raised the 18% unemployment rate in the Acadian Peninsula. None discussed the closure of major anchor employers in Nackawic, Miramichi, Campbellton and Sussex. None discussed the continuing challenges faced by Saint John.
Although I sound like a broken record, I will continue to say that the newspapers in this province have to step up and take on the role of champion for the economy. They have said almost nothing about the current Premiers record on economic development. They have not once, that I can remember, asked where we stand in the 10 year Provincial Prosperity Plan. If they had bothered to check, we are slipping against all of the economic goals set in that document.
The central theme of this blog and one of my central preoccupations is the need for a comprehensive strategy for economic development in this province. One that reverses our population decline, lowers unemployment, brings back expatriate New Brunswickers, leads to higher incomes and a better quality of life for our province.
However, once again, it seems that our provincial government – starting with the leader – just doesn’t get it. According to media reports, the government is planning to “boost agricultural spending, lower small business taxes, cut more red tape, fix up the crumbling matrix of rural roads, improve day cares and increase wages for their workers, hike welfare rates and increase the heating fuel supplement for low-income New Brunswickers” (Times & Transcript). Which one of these new spending programs will even begin to address the central and overarching problem in New Brunswick – our declining economy and population?
How about lowering small business taxes? The first Lord government small business tax cut in 1999 was supposed to stimulate small business growth. However, from Q3 1999 to Q2 2002 – the number of businesses (those remitting payrolls to CCRA) actually declined 1.4% in New Brunswick compared to a 2.3% growth in Canada as a whole. Not much luck there. The reality is that small businesses do not need another token tax cut. What they need is economic growth. Virtually all small businesses in this province rely on their local market for business. If this market is in decline, their business will suffer – regardless of Lord’s 75 cents a day per small business tax cut (this is what the original tax cut amounted to for the average small business). I just talked to someone from the Miramichi over the weekend who is at the end of their rope. They are a small business owner and the steady decline in the local economy has put more and more pressure on their business to the point that they are now seriously looking at leaving. Does anyone blame him? Northumberland County’s (Miramichi) population has been declining since the late 1970s.
So the new Tory priorities are roads, welfare and daycare programs. Well, the way I see it, with their economic plan, we won’t need roads, welfare and daycare in most New Brunswick communities because there will be no one left to use them.
My friend from the Miramichi says that he has never seen his community a more dejected place. The mill is closing, young people are leaving, hospital beds are declining – not much to be happy about. After this weekend, they at least can be sure about one thing – no one is promising to fix the economic woes in their community any time soon.
One of the key challenges facing Greater Moncton over the next decade and beyond will be the supply of labour for the growing labour market. Urban unemployment in the community is already one of the lowest in Canada and without some new sources of labour, economic growth will undoubtedly falter. The migration of Francophones from Northern New Brunswick will continue but that is a limited supply. There is talk of attracting more immigrants but no concrete strategies have been put in place.
I believe that we are losing a highly valuable source of labour every year with the new crop of graduates from our English language high schools. Well over 90% of the high school graduates that go on to university leave Greater Moncton to study in other communities – in Nova Scotia, Ontario and beyond. It is a well documented fact that once these kids leave, the vast majority never come back. It is also a fact that a local university is a powerful supply of young talent for the local workforce. Just look at the Universite de Moncton. That institution is one of the most important economic development drivers in our community. It has churned out hundreds of new graduates each year – many of which stay and build their careers in the Greater Moncton region. Look at most of the top young talent in our community. The majority of them are UdeM graduates.
However, UdeM caters to only about 1/3 of the potential university students from this region in any given year. That means that 2/3 are leaving the community. I am not overlooking Atlantic Baptist University or Mount Allison. It’s just that ABU has a very limited student enrolment and a majority of their students are not from Moncton. As for Mount A, something like 60% of the students are from outside New Brunswick and of the remaining 40%, only a very small percentage are from Moncton. In addition, MTA’s campus is far enough from the community that we receive very little benefit from the student population. Many MTA students that I talk with tell me they rarely visit Moncton at all and don’t really consider it an option for their career development. UdeM’s new program to accept English language, French Immersion kids is a welcome step – but again, this is very limited – 25 in the first year.
The reality is that Greater Moncton should be a captive market for universities in other communities that are facing declining enrolments. There are literally hundreds of potential students right here in Greater Moncton every year and the potential pool is growing not declining as in some other communities. It’s time for UNB, Mount Allison or some other university to set up a campus in Moncton that could accept hundreds of new students each year. This would give our English language high school graduates a local market option for their university education and provide a better chance that many of them would stay right here in Greater Moncton.
The stakes are high. For the first time in the 2001 Census, the percentage of Francophones with university education in Greater Moncton was higher than the Anglophone population. And with that comes higher average incomes and a higher standard of living. The greatest niche that this community has is our bilingual nature. It is an advantage that very few cities in Canada can claim. We must nurture it. We must enhance it. We must work towards the day when people speak French or English ubiquitously. However, we must not do this by exporting our English kids. If we do that, then everyone loses.
I have always been puzzled by this perceived rivalry between Saint John and Moncton. Who is bigger? Who is better? Which economy is the largest in New Brunswick? Has Moncton finally eclipsed Saint John?
If you have been reading the media lately, you would have the sense that Saint John’s troubles are a recent phenomenon. But a quick look at population trends suggests otherwise. In the 1956 Census, Saint John was at its peak of economic power in this province. Saint John county had a larger population in that year that it does today in 2004 – almost 50 years later. By contrast, the counties of Westmorland and Albert (Greater Moncton) have seen a combined population growth of 68% in that same time frame (62,000 people).
The truth is that Saint John has been in decline, in an economic sense, for a number of decades and the Greater Moncton region (despite the small hiccup of the CN Shops closure) has been expanding its economy at a fairly consistent rate. In fact, during the most turbulent economic times associated with the CN Shops closure (from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s), the population of Westmorland and Albert counties grew by a combined 8.3%.
Which brings me to the point. I sincerely hope that Saint John’s aggressive new strategies for economic development will be successful. There is no room in this province for municipal jealousy. All communities need to work for economic success and we need to applaud success when it happens and challenge ourselves even more when it doesn’t.
It’s time for Saint John to stop acting like its #1 and just try to get back in the game. It lost its #1 status in this province decades ago. If this vital urban region in New Brunswick continues to decline, it may just drag down the rest of the province with it.
No, you haven’t accidentally clicked on the Health and Wellness blog. This is the It’s the Economy, Stupid blog. However, given recently published statistics on our health in Greater Moncton, I thought it would be a good time to show the linkages between the economy and health. The South-East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) -the folks that run the Moncton Hospital and a whole host of other health care services – announced yesterday that they are embarking on a public strategic planning process for the next five years. As part of this process, they released a wide variety of health-related statistics.
Now most of us would characterize Greater Moncton as a vibrant, energetic and active community. It turns out, we are among the most obese urban areas in Canada and we are below average for most of the major health indicators. And the kicker, we are dead last in New Brunswick among the eight health regions for physical activity. We are competing with Nunavut for the most inactive population in Canada.
This can have a profound long term impact on our economy. Not only does poor health contribute to high health care costs (I have talked about the drain of health care costs on the economy elsewhere), it can lead to poor mental health, poor self-esteem and be an overall drag on the community’s economic, cultural and social development.
In the past 15 years, the Greater Moncton economy has seen a major shift in the type of jobs that we do. We have gone from an economy dominated by heavy lifting, manually active jobs to sedentary desk jobs (call centres, Information technology, services). So for all of us that work at desks all day, it’s time to take our health more seriously. It’s time to go for the salad instead of the superfries. It’s time to go to the gym instead of watching TV. And as for the moniker of being the heaviest drinkers, I’ll think all tackle that some other time
PS – SERHA is asking the public to participate in their strategic planning process. Go to their site to fill out a questionnaire and tell them how you think we can address the health care challenges in our region.
“There is hope, but not for us” -Kafka
Coalitions to stop the closure of hospitals, demonstrations to protest bed closures, heated rhetoric from all sides. This has been the outcome of the provincial health plan launched earlier this year. Every local community is fighting with great gusto (including court challenges) to hold on to their health care facility.
Once again, I think people are missing the point. The declining population in rural New Brunswick is necessitating the closure and downsizing of hospitals. For those defending their hospitals, how far must the population decline before it’s okay to downsize? How about when there is nobody left? Let me point out a few facts. The population of Northumberland county is lower today than it was in 1966. Madawaska county had more residents in 1956 than it does today. You have to go all the way back to the 1940s to find a time when Restigouche County had a smaller population than it does today. Seven of the province’s 15 counties suffered steep population declines from 1991 – 2001 – mostly in rural regions.
Until we have an effective strategy for economic development in this province, we will continue to see population decline and government will have no choice but to cut services. If we can revitalize the economies of these communities, then there will be no need to cut services. Oh if it were that simple.
At a time when our Premier has spent a lot of time in Ottawa lobbying for more Equalization money, the Province of Saskatchewan has joined the elite group of “have” provinces that don’t rely on federal equalization payments (Ontario and Alberta).
This should give hope to all ‘have not’ provinces. If provinces like New Brunswick develop and implement a strong economic development plan, maybe sometime in the distant future we will join Saskatchewan in that happy position of economic sovereignty.