Place and economic development

In recent years, I have become increasingly concerned about how policy makers view economic development in this region.

There seems to be a growing belief that economic development is solely tied to geographic-based factors. For example, if you have minerals in the ground, you can be a mining town. If you have fish off your coast you can be a fishing town. If you are located on a major highway in a central location, you can be a retail and service hub.

But what happens when the forests, fish and minerals are depleted? What then?

There was a study done a few years ago (I can’t find it and that’s a shame) and I remembered one key finding. The study determined that only about 50% of business investment decisions were based primarily on geographic-specific factors such as local supplies (forests, minerals, etc.) or proximity to markets, etc. The other 50% were based primarily on other non-geographic specific factors such as the quality of the labour force, the operating cost environment, government financial incentives, airports, roads, etc. So 50% of business investment decisions are based on factors within our scope of control.

Sure, we won’t attract a firm that wants to put a sales office in New York City. Sure, we won’t attract a firm that wants to be on top of an oil field in Alberta.

But we should be able to attract our share of the other 50%.

Why is Mount Allison in Sackville?
Why is Michelin in Kentville?
Why is Toyota in Huntsville, Alabama?

I’ll tell you this, it had nothing to do with where the community was located on the map.

I find this attitude is creeping into the policy making across the spectrum in Atlantic Canada. Governments are quick to finance tourism projects (based on geography) but seem to be disinterested in financing new auto plants or semiconductor plants or another other kind of plant that does not make its location decisions based on geography.

This, in my opinion, is a cancerous economic development policy. If the mines close in Northern New Brunswick, then we slowly let the area die. If the forestry is not able to produce the jobs and employment it did in the past, so be it. If the fishery is in decline – it is inevitable that communities will decline.

50% of location decisions are not based on geography. That should give us hope that we can attract business investment to Miramichi, Tracadie, Bathurst and even Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton which are not exactly tearing up the track when it comes to attracting business investment.

Where we should be focusing our efforts is not on ‘tourism’ or creating small businesses or stimulating ‘innovation. We should be singularly focused on developing the business conditions that would attract business investment into these communities. What strategic investments need to be made? What partnerships need to be forged? What marketing efforts need to be initiated? What infrastructure needs to be built? What attitudes need to change?

I will be writing more on this subject in the coming weeks but this is my initial thought.

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0 Responses to Place and economic development

  1. Anonymous says:

    An answer to one of your questions:

    Charles Frederick Allison’s grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the late 1700s, because of the after effects of a dinner with the local government tax collector. Wanting to impress him, the family had set the table with their one valuable possession; silver spoons. After entertaining their guest, the Allisons were informed by the tax collector that if they could afford silver spoons, then they could certainly afford to pay more taxes. The Allison’s left Ireland shortly thereafter. The offending spoons are now on display in the main university library.

    In June 1839, Charles Frederick Allison proposed to the Wesleyan Methodists that a school of elementary and higher learning be built. His offer to purchase a site in Sackville, New Brunswick, to erect a suitable building for an academy, and to contribute operating funds of 100 pounds a year for 10 years was accepted. The formal opening of the Mount Allison Academy for boys took place in 1843. In 1854, a branch institution for girls, known as the “Ladies College”, opened to complement the Wesleyan Academy for boys. In July 1862, the degree-granting Mount Allison College was organized. The first two students graduated in May 1863. For nearly a century, Mount Allison functioned as three distinct, mutually enriching parts: the College proper, the Boys’ Academy and the Ladies College.

    The closure of the School for Girls in 1946, and the Academy in 1953, coincided with a period of expansion and provided much-needed space. In 1958, the beginning of a period of construction and acquisition of buildings eased the strain of overcrowding. At this time, it was decided to reaffirm the traditional aim of providing a high-quality undergraduate liberal arts education, along with continuing to offer professional programmes in already-established fields.

    Mount Allison University is committed to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in a community of higher learning, centred on undergraduate students, in an intimate and harmonious environment. Mount Allison offers Bachelor’s degrees in Arts, Science, Commerce, Fine Arts and Music, as well as Master’s degrees in Biology and Chemistry and Certificates in Bilingualism. Current full time enrollment at the university is about 2,200. The student body at Mount Allison comes from every province in Canada and there are also a large proportion of international students as well. They are attracted by the university’s collegiality and small class size.

    Mount Allison was the first university in the British Empire to confer a Bachelor’s degree to a woman; Grace Annie Lockhart received a Bachelor of Science in 1875. It was also the first university in Canada to grant a Bachelor of Arts to a woman, Harriet Starr Stewart. Mount Allison boasts the oldest university art gallery in Canada; it was the first to wire all of campus to the information highway; it was the first to offer a Canadian Studies programme; and it is a pioneer in the establishment of services for students with learning disabilities.

    Mount Allison University has routinely topped the Maclean’s Magazine Annual Survey of Canadian Universities in the category for small undergraduate schools. In the first survey, it ranked third over-all out of all universities in the country. Since then, the university rankings have been broken down by the size of the institution and Mount Allison has consistently been ranked number one or number two in the small university category.

    Mount Allison has produced more Rhodes Scholars per capita than any other university in the Commonwealth. The latest, nominated in 2004, was the school’s 45th.

  2. David Campbell says:

    I love that little cut and paste. It is a wonderful proof of my point. Where are the Charles Frederick Allisons of today?

    I’ll propose a wacky idea. How about a world-class School of Animation in the Miramichi building on the past success of the NBCC up there. It could do advanced research and attract some of the top minds in the world and also attract business investment from the leading, global animation firms.

    Heck, we could call it Mount Miramichi College….