On Golden Pond

Billy Ray: A canoe! Just like the Indians used.
Norman: Actually, the Indians used a different grade of aluminum.

Quote from On Golden Pond (1981)

I ran into Gerry Pond, former President & CEO of NBTel, this week and had the opportunity to have a thoughtful chat about economic development, Aliant and a bit of politics. He’s still as fiesty and insightful as ever and making a big contribution to New Brunswick – particularly in Saint John.

Hence the ‘Golden Pond’ reference – don’t be too dense.

But it struck me during our brief conversation that Gerry Pond was more than just the CEO of NBTel (and before that a senior executive). He was truly a booster and supporter of economic development in New Brunswick. Consider NBTel for a moment. If you go beyond the wildly successful call centre initiative – which NBTel played a key role – I was there and I should know, there was just a host of companies and innovative ideas incubated by NBTel that contributed to the province’s reputation of being a ‘living lab’ for IT innovation. There was New North Media, NBTelInteractive, Genesys Canada, X-Wave, Innovatia, to name a few – some prospered others not – but NBTel was an incubator of ideas and innovation – and it served the company and the province well.

Times have changed and I am not going to criticized Aliant in this blog. I have a lot of friends and ex colleagues there and I think it’s still a great company. Suffice it to say, however; that it’s secondary role as dominant influencer of innovation in New Brunswick has passed.

Now, as I reflect ten years later – I can’t help but sigh. New Brunswick is no longer a ‘living lab’ – unless you are talking about innovative EI reforms and Equalization programs. We are dead last in the county for households using the Internet. Our business community is among the slowest adopters of the Internet in their operations. Our call centre industry never did evolve into the ‘next generation’ of higher value call centres. The Province’s IT industry doesn’t even have an industry association – it’s so small and fragmented). And the capper, there has been almost no growth in IT employment since 2000 – that’s six years folks. And our leaders say we are too small for Research in Motion. Sigh.

But take a cue from the grizzled old veteran – Gerry Pond. He told me he doesn’t have much time for grumbling or complaining. He’s more interested in ideas and go foward solutions.

Touché Gerry, touché.

Even though I’m no spring chicken, as I talked with Gerry, the words of an old Cockburn song ran through my mind. Check out the third paragraph – just remove the references to ‘ragged’ and ‘bummed’.

A Montreal Song
From: Further Adventures Of (1978) – Bruce Cockburn

I turned on the TV war news
just to look and wonder why.
Thunder crashed and red flash-flowers
bloomed a nightmare in the sky.

So i went down to the cafe
just to string myself along.
On the way i found some riches —
played the jukebox, got this song.

While i sat there a ragged man came —
bummed a coffee, talked awhile.
Told me stories full of wonder —
left me laughing like a well-loved child.

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0 Responses to On Golden Pond

  1. Anonymous says:

    Not to be dismissive, but just about every province and state was touting ‘internet technology’ in the nineties. The smart ones waited til it could be gauged what economic benefit would be gained from it. It’s easy to be a ‘generator of ideas’ when you are suckling at the taxpayer’s teat, and I think this is a perfect example of what people have been saying all along, that government is far more capable of investing in new and high technologies than the private sector. In fact, it handles virtually all of it.

    New Brunswickers simply picked the wrong party for the times. Lord simply wants government out of business. The rest of the world operates far differently. Unfortunately, Lord realizes that he and his party are simply too stupid to actually know how to govern effectively, so they want to do as little as possible.

    The criticisms of Aliant are never ending. They are dumb as posts. They haven’t even gotten around to embracing VOIP! This isn’t surprising, because Aliant is centred in Nova Scotia, so unlike NBTel they are not interested in the well being of New Brunswickers, they just have a token amount of spending there.

    But I dare you to come up with ONE example of ‘innovation’ in EI. It simply isn’t happening. The reality is that things have gotten so bad that the feds simply write a cheque to Lord every once in a while to prop up the government before it hits life support. McKenna was a good PR man, one of the first, so his song and dance got more federal money than Lord can dream of, while he was still deficit spending.

    It’s easy to be an ‘incubator’ of ideas when you’ve got tons of cash. However, most of those were abject failures, and economic development aimed at growth shouldn’t be tailored for three or four years. How many of those patents are paying dividends now? How many of those companies are selling their ideas worldwide? I think you’re putting too rosy a glow on the past. The government is always able to shovel money into short term growth. THAT isn’t the hard part.

  2. scott says:

    Great Post David. It’s interesting that for such a small province with so few citizens & cities that Fredericton is the only fully WiFi functional area.(Fred-eZone) I know Moncton has some hotspots but has not chosen to invest further and I think the same can be said about SJ, but don’t quote me on that one. We shouldn’t worry too much though because Toronto just launch the first phase of their network today which will eventually put them into that category as well. And if they can do it with that very complicated grid, then there is no excuse why this hasn’t been fully realized in every city in New Brunswick, especially sincet Wi-Fi networks make broadband wireless access to the Internet scopious for laptop users and tourists, and usually at more inexpensive cost than using cellphone networks, commercial Wi-Fi hotspots, or home-based Internet services.

  3. David Campbell says:

    Actually, Saint John has a very innovative approach to wireless. They are requesting that all companies in the uptown area that have a wireless nextwork make it available to the public. They will get a certification/sticker than shows they are part of the wireless network. So all users have to do is find an area that is a hot spot. Essentially, one big hot spot by connecting hundreds of little ones. They rolled this out but I haven’t been down there to test it out yet.

  4. David Campbell says:

    Just a coincidence, I’m sure. Just came across this article:

    Going Slow in Atlantic Canada
    By Gerry Blackwell

    The mills of the gods grind slowly, they say. Ditto, apparently, incumbent telcos. Earlier this summer, Aliant, the former monopoly telephone company in Atlantic Canada and now a subsidiary of Bell Canada Enterprises, launched an “innovative” commercial Wi-Fi hotspot service featuring eight hotspots in airports and a convention/entertainment complex.

    It is difficult to see how the service can be “innovative” given that other telcos, including others in Canada, and private companies have been deploying similar hotspots for five or six years, and that at least two municipalities in Atlantic Canada – Fredericton and St. John in New Brunswick – have already launched citywide free Wi-Fi services.


  5. Geeks on Ice says:

    David you are right about SJ and WiFi, it’s part of the Propel SJ initiative.

    I do agree that NBtel is a great example of a living lab that was fearless of failure. From their initiatives and leadership NBTel were pioneers in HS internet development and telephony services worldwide. NBTel was also a sense of pride. Anonymous’s comments remind me of the Ford quote: “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right!”.

    It’s crucial that we have R&D incubator initiatives in NB to grow and diversify our economie. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Whitehill’s, Mathis Instruments’, Xwave’s, Dovico’s and Spielo’s to employ thousands of high payed workers in the province. The key is that people’s expectations need to be realistic. You are only likely going to have a 2 out of 10 success rate. Incubator’s are like a sales funnel, the more prospects you have, the bigger the chance is to close the deal. Some may say that it would be a waste of tax dollars to create an atmosphere that will see 8 companies fail, however I say how much in salaries, taxes and economic growth are we losing out on if we do not fund these initiatives.

    Look at how much Universities in the US spend on their R&D initiatives… billions! In NB, barely millions. I emplore you to remember how the cancellation of the Avro program led to a massive brain drain to the south. Learn from history and don’t repeat the same mistake.

    I am excited with the local initiatives that are taking place in SJ and Moncton, but they need the support of the people in order to work. PropelSJ has an ambitious goal to create 36(I need to dbl check) new startups in the SJ community and has already started up 18 to my knowledge. What’s unique is that the local business community has created a support net to help mentor these new businesses to help them grow and prosper. Instead of a us vs. them attitude it’s a refreshing “good for the community” leadership.

    In Moncton, I have seen first hand the work that local leaders are working on trying to transform Moncton into a “living lab” city using a different approach by hiring IC2 from Austin, Texas. I have also called city council leaders to walk the walk.. Setup WiFi infrastruture in the city now! Let’s do it before everywhere else. It would send a strong message to the world.

    from experience, the biggest issue I have seen is the lack of reporting on our local knowledge industry issues. The only one to bring it up is Alec Bruce and have written to him to expres my thanks. You barely see a peep about the knowledge industry in the papers even if there are always things happening locoally like Spielo’s amazing growth, Whitehill’s acquisition of a US based company, Rising Stars, Propel SJ or Geeks on Ice.

    Yes, you are right. Our province had lost it’s focus on the knowledge industry, but locally, leaders are working hard to make it a priority and I have seen a change recently from the provincial Govt.

    The key challenge that many entrepreneurs have identified to me is that Fed and Provincial programs do not reflect the needs of the entrepreneurs. Perhaps with some work, we can make it an election issue.


  6. Anonymous says:

    If somebody can offer up the links about NBTel’s ‘worldwide reputation’ I’d be interested to see it. At university I can remember UNB saying how they have a ‘worldwide repuation’. Virtually every industry that people are involved in they claim to have this massive effect internationally. Suuure.

    However, its interesting that maritime economists and politicians have been trying to alter federal spending based on need rather than population for decades, yet the same thing happens within the province.

    Everybody talks about taxpayers money to set up Wifi in St.John and Moncton, and not a mention of the north which needs it far more.

    Wifi, is, of course, simply another taxpayer funded initiative for industry. WE pay the costs, they get the rewards, and maybe if we’re lucky, they’ll hire some people.

    Anybody that thinks ‘citywide wifi’ is some kind of innovation simply reinforces why NB is an economic backwater. The costs of setting up a LAN to a WAN are non-existent, and citywide WAN’s have very serious limitations.

    Not only that, but most cities now have close to citywide Wifi’s, Waterloo just won some kind of ‘smart community’ award and that was part of it. It hasn’t done anything for industry, it isn’t even in the areas where the companies are located-they have their own. What it does is gets more students to live downtown, and helps out the libraries.

    That’s a good point about the media simply ignoring the industry-hardly surprising as they ignore just about every industry until its time for Irving to get another tax break.

    If the above companies really are such innovators, I’d suggest they form an association and at least have a blog like Fat Kat’s, or put out a newsletter online.

  7. Geeks on Ice says:

    I have absolutely nothing against WIFI in the north, heck I have said for years that most of the North being on just dial up impeeds economic development. Only as recent as of 6 months have we seen Aliant bring HS to the area. You won’t get an argument from me. It’s the govt’s job to support infrastructure for communities to provide services and allow them to prosper. HS an WiFi are essential infrastructure.

    As for the “worldwide reputation” of NBTel. I can remember quite a few mentions in the 90’s from publications like the WSJ concerning NBTel/Call Center innovation.

    FYI, there are associations and groups, they just never get press.

    Here are a few commitees, we are always looking for members:

    Geeks on Ice (www.geeksonice.com)
    Rising Stars (www.risingstars.ca)
    KIRA (http://www.kiraawards.com/)
    Cybersocials (www.cybersocial.ca)
    PropelSJ (http://www.propelsj.com/propel_home.htm)

  8. scott says:

    Thx for the article.

  9. Anonymous says:

    That wasn’t a personal shot at anybody. The reality is the same as has been commented on before, which is that these blogs, and hopefully even your little connection of associations will get involved politically.

    What we are seeing is the thorough failure of a provincial government, and people have to join the lobbying effort with either specifice recommendations, or changing the government.

    What we are seeing is an almost identical situation as during the great depression. The provincial government is barely afloat, having granted large corporations carte blanche in industry with almost zero taxation ( a mere 3%)

    The southern cities of course benefit since thats where the populations are, and the representation. So it experienced some growth and uses its available funds to create these industry programs.

    In the north, they have no such funds. It takes a WHOLE lot of work to get government to do anything, let alone anything for the north. So just saying ‘sure it would be great, they can go ahead’, of course doesn’t do anything. Of course, it may well be it simply makes no difference what is said as the government MAY ignore the population anyway.

    The question is, how many blogs have featured these problems? I know people in the south who know absolutely nothing about the north.

    So of course what happens is that the north loses out. If, say, the province wants to put money into the north, the south screams bloody murder. That’s exactly what happened federally with nuclear power.

    That may seem obtuse, but it is quite relevant to any associations. Why would any northerners join an association that never discusses their needs or lobbies on their behalf?

    So in the end, what you have is exactly what the above shows-groups that are ‘community’ rather than provincially based. That means that it is next to impossible to get any of those programs that are mentioned above that these associations are looking for.

    I know we live in an era of anti politics, but eventually the people who are talking are going to have to start talking not just to one another, but to elected officials.

    Just as an aside, if the commentor above actually read this far, I was wondering how many press releases have actually been rejected by the papers? In my experience I know many groups simply expect the media to come and find them, which isn’t the case at all. Local papers are usually quite happy to run press releases especially the ‘rising stars’ kind of stuff that is generally upbeat.

    However, I’d be very interested to know how many submissions have been rejected, as that would indeed be a black eye on the irving press…as well as the CBC.

  10. Geeks on Ice says:

    You make valid points and it has been something that I have brought as a concern to the committees I work in. I personally want to see more Norther NB teams in my Geeks on Ice tournament. Last year I had my first team from Miramichi(Fatkat), but I want to see more. The biggest problem I have encountered with Northern NB is coordination because of geographic limitations. It’s far easier for groups from SJ, Moncton and Freddy to get together. Edm, Campb and the Chi often feel left out because of travel and often do not feel it is in their best interest to get involved.

    BTW, here’s another program for Northern NB (http://www.cipanb.ca/)

    That being said, I will be honest and say that I hardly sent a press release to L’Acadie Nouvelle about the event. The reason is that my written french is horrible, my chiac is terrific, and because of a limited number of ressources I had to conciously decide to just stick to english PR’s in the past. I have made it a goal to find a translator for 2007 and want at least 4 teams from Northern NB.

    As for the rejections… I can tell you that 3 months leading up to the tournament we sent a PR almost everyday. When they ran something on it, it was an extract from the PR’s, with only a 5 min call to make sure the event was still happening. BTW, they misspelled hockey everytime…

    I do pride myself with the fact that we did get covered, but as this is a non-profit/volunteer project, doing this was very time consuming. I did have success with CBC radio and Rogers TV once they heard that we we’re helping a charity. The Times repetedly asked why a gathering of 300 IT professionals was so important, they still didn’t get after we told them. I guess I may need to reinvestigate my messaging. 😉

    I know the other groups continuously sent stuff to the papers, but nothing ever gets printed. I guess it’s not as interesting as a price increase at Tim’s!

  11. David Campbell says:

    I am familiar with PropelSJ and think its really interesting. Also like KIRA (but its just awards?). Geeks on Ice & Rising Stars are about IT workers. Cybersocials are about socializing.

    Where are the industry associations for IT that are lobbying, developing workforce development plans, joint marketing for the industry, etc. etc. etc. I think New Brunswick is the only province without a province-wide IT industry association – but I could be wrong about that.

  12. Geeks on Ice says:

    Hi David,

    I beleive you are right. It’s something my colleagues and I have brought up a few times with BNB in the past but the position has always been that it’s the people that should bring forth this initiative not govt.

    As I posted earlier, I have seen a recent shift and willingness to adjust course and beleive that a NB association is a great idea. The biggest obstacle I can see is getting the ressources for that type of private effort. There is a willingness from a very small group of people in the field, I’m just not sure it would fly without provincial support. If you don’t mind, I’d like to throw the idea around the next time I sit with my colleagues.

    BTW, love the blog.

  13. David Campbell says:

    Just my two cents worth but the rivalries in New Brunswick make the establishment of a provincial association challenging. But maybe this could be a first good step in collaboration between the three southern cities and the north. I am sure there are a few dozen bona fide IT companies in New Brunswick and I am equally sure they would benefit from a good industry association (and I am not talking about an annual golf tournament and awards show). Good industry associations can be vital to the growth of industry clusters. Geeks of Ice and the other networks could be instrumental to getting this going.

  14. Geeks on Ice says:

    I have asked and was told that attempts have been made and failed. Why they failed is not know to me yet, but I do like a challenge. I do think the idea has a lot of merit.

  15. David Campbell says:

    The Information Technology Association of Nova Scotia (itans.ns.ca)has something like 300 members. I know NB’s IT industry is much smaller but let’s say we could find 150 organizations (remember this includes schools, banks, consultants, etc.). At an average annual fee of $1,000 that would be $150,000 budget. Not a pile of dough but enough to get the thing started at least.

  16. Geeksonice says:

    Here’s some food for thought..

    I really like the BC model: http://www.bctia.org/

    I have also found that not all provinces have an association but everyone that has knowlwdge economie as a priority have one:


  17. Anonymous says:

    I think you made the point very well about our decline in some respects. But as with any column they are usually best when they pick a point and focus on it. But there are other ways to look at the situation.

    I agree that we are missing some of the ingredients for success that we need – and some that we once had – but I feel that we are filling in the gaps and building momentum on the only ingredient required for turnarounds in other notable centres such as Austin – creativity.

    There are IT associations in NB serving their smaller communities in the ways that are best suited to each and there is increasing cooperation among them.

    Most important is that there is innovative activity happening now by these groups that have the potential to blow the lid off of the McKenna miracle and reorient the NB culture toward innovation and prosperity.

    We just need to continue on this path and realize the goals of these initiatives. Our strategies are as good as anyone’s and built on the same foundations as other turnarounds in this sector.

  18. dmartell says:

    David, great post. I love Gerry’s thought around things. Innovation & Go Forward Plans … I use to complain, but made a decision 12 months ago to build it myself.

    Funny thing is, not long after embarking on this journey, that I met others with similar interest.

    The exciting part is: I’m not alone. Many other NB’ers are innovating, socializing and pushing the limit – they’re just not as focused on serving local industries, they’re making their mark in emerging markets, while continuing to operate in NB.

    The upcoming wave of entrepreneurs will create a tidal wave to change the landscape, I’m confident and excited.