Ever have one of those conversations that just blows you away. I toil away here every day in columns, blogs, reports for clients, conversations, etc. trying to expand the conversation around economic development far and wide.
I ran into the head of a fairly large manufacturing firm in New Brunswick tonight at a Christmas party. I won’t say who or which industry because he and I were chatting in the friendly confines of punch and cookies – not for wide distribution. But I have to relay some of the conversation.
First we chatted about his business and then turned to government – of which he didn’t have much good to say and then I asked him what he thought we should do if we really want to reach economic self-sufficiency. He said without even a second thought that we need to focus on 2-3 industries and invest like crazy in them up and down the ecosystem (my word there). He then shocked me by saying that the government needs to go out and attract in the largest multinational player in that specific industry. He said the large players anchor the cluster and use a lot of SMEs in the market. Even if the SME (like this guy’s firm) doesn’t get any work they benefit from the cluster that builds up around the large anchor player (he cited the auto plants in Tennessee). He proceeded to name a number of services that they had to use suppliers in Montreal and beyond – increasing costs and reducing efficiency. These suppliers gravitate to the areas that have the large industry players.
By the way, that response was to my question “How do we create an environment that leads to 50 more firms like yours springing up in New Brunswick”.
Then I said to him that some company leaders have said they don’t want these big firms coming in and bidding up the price of labour and stealing their talent. His response? “That means we just have to work harder and smarter.” That’s gold, Jerry. Gold (reference to Seinfeld – not this guy).
It’s one thing when a consultant like me says that we need to attract large anchor companies in key strategic industries. It’s also one thing when the occasional economic developer says it (and increasingly they do say it) but when the captains of industry are saying it, then someone should start listening.
By the way – final point. This guy had nothing but good things to say about NSBI. I guess they must have operations in Nova Scotia as well. That says something as well.
New Year’s resolution for me. Get out to more parties where I can bump into more CEOs.