Here we go again. Another year. For economic development watchers/practitioners, 2006 was another interesting year – but not a lot of it was positive. Here are my picks for the good, bad and ugly of 2006 (relative to economic development in NB) and a few considerations for 2007.
Saint John. Whether you are a fan of the energy sector or not, the economic prospects of Saint John got a whole lot better in 2006 and are looking strong for 2007. It will be interesting to see if Saint John can leverage the major infrastructure assets into additional secondary economic development. On the whole a strong Saint John will be very good for NB.
The election of Shawn Graham. Admittedly, the election per se has not brought tangible positive outcomes. Out-migration continues. Industry decline continues. But removing a government that thought everything was okay – better than okay for one that at least recognizes the problems is a good first step. Plus, everyone is talking about Shawn’s naivete but I, for one, like a New Brunswick politician actually using the term ‘self-sufficiency’ again.
Northern NB. Another year of strong out-migration. More troubles for the forestry sector. I think people should take my advice from many blogs and start rethinking northern NB. Not in terms of small funding pots used to provide gravy to political friends but in real, structural terms. Some of the key industries that sustained Northern NB are in decline and those communities need to ask some hard questions. Do we want to exist at all? If so, what new industries can we grow here to replace the ones in decline? Who will help? And, of course, embedded in those simple questions are very complex issues.
Now, this is not ugly for the provinces in question – rather for New Brunswick. So those of you that read this blog from outside NB you can take these comments and switch them to The Good depending on the province involved.
The attracting of new industries Nova Scotia. New Brunswick took the lead on the call centre sector and NS was always catching up. In some cases that meant sloppy seconds. Nova Scotia is way ahead in a number of key sectors including financial services (attracted a half a dozen financial services back offices in 2006), IT/animation, etc. I can’t say enough about the financial services sector. The financial services sector accounted for much of urban Toronto’s growth in the 1990s. Literally tens of thousands of jobs in mutual funds, hedge funds, financial planning, analysis, and other back office functions sprang up in Toronto – much of it fuelled by external investment – in the 1990s. I said for years that New Brunswick should try and cream skim some back office functions related to hedge funds or other new structured financial products (ETFs, PPNs, etc.). Cripes, a former Premier is vice chair of TD and the province has the RBC call centre. That should have been a place to start. The impact on urban life in the cities lucky enough to attract these firms would have been significant. These young urban professionals (brokers, analysts, actuaries, technical support) in the financial services sector get paid well, work hard and play hard. All three urban centres in New Brunswick complain about the lack of vibrancy in their downtowns. Put 1,500 $90k+ financial services workers in downtown Moncton or SJ or Freddy. You will see the vibrancy as these guys/gals fill up the bistros, bars and restaurants.
But I digress.
The Federal government’s gravy train for industry everywhere except NB. I kept thinking as ‘Canada’s New Government’ announced multi-million dollar funding for projects in Quebec, Ontario, BC, etc. that wouldn’t it be neat if a Canadian Prime Minister or Cabinet Minister made such an investment announcement in New Brunswick. $110 million to Company X to set up aerospace manufacturing in Miramichi. $50 million to Company Y to set up a hedge fund back office in Fredericton. $45 million to Company Z to set up a 1,000 person whatever in Moncton. But there was nothing.
This could be a watershed year or a dud depending on a few issues.
The outcome of Graham’s Self-Sufficiency task force. This group has an impossible (but interesting) mandate. Come up with scenarios for self-sufficiency within 20 years. As I have pointed out here many times, this would take economic growth that would make Alberta and Ireland blush and is highly unlikely. However, putting NB on the road to self-sufficiency is highly achievable in my opinion if we can crank up business investment, make highly targeted investments in education, R&D and infrastucture (aligned with targeted industry sectors) and if we rebuild BNB (or variants) into a world class economic development organization that is well-resourced, well-funded and passionate (from the top to bottom) about getting it done.
The energy sector in Saint John. As stated above, there is real opportunity here but with the environment fast becoming a top priority of Canadians and their governments, it will be a key pivot point for any future development in this area.
Freddy beach. It is likely the expansion of public jobs will tone down in 2007 and beyond so it will be interesting to see what economic activity will keep Freddy strong. They have witnessed a large increase in retail and service jobs to complement the public jobs in recent years but that growth may also taper. Freddy needs to grow a few key sectors beyond government and the secondary retail/service sector. IT? Education? We need a strong Freddy.
What’s next for Moncton. It’s been a good ride for this town once called the armpit of the Maritimes (actually this is visually true if you are looking at things geographically and from above). I know a half dozen folks that moved here deliberately in the past few years because of its job market and quality of life. The migration data confirms many more. Hundreds from Calgary, Toronto, Montreal. The key issue for Moncton is “What’s Next?”. The call centre industry is peaking. The retail sector is topping out. Will it be manufacturing? IT? Entertainment/tourism? I think the future looks bright but it will require considerable leadership. In addition, I think the region needs a national rebrand. We need to project outwardly a new collective brand. I don’t know what this looks like – is it urban? Educated? Young Families? Cultures/arts? Vibrancy? Business? A mix? I am not into branding but when the first thing out of the mouth of people that just moved here is “I couldn’t believe it”, you know you have a branding problem. Attracting people will be vital for all New Brunswick – particularly it’s urban centres and in order to do that when people think ‘Moncton’ they shouldn’t think mud, closed CN shops, language strife and the other elements that come to mind from many years ago.