If studying equated results

I read this morning in the T&T that the Miramichi is about to announce a committee to “to tackle Miramichi’s economic woes”.

I wonder if these exercises are meant to be an end in and of themselves. After all, the Miramichi had a strategic plan developed for its economy just a couple of years ago and it was just updated last year. In both cases, the document acknowledged the problems with the forestry sector and as I recall wanted to replace those jobs with more tourism (a strategy that makes me cringe).

The truth doesn’t need much studying. The Miramich economy has been reliant on a few large forestry-related employers and some highly seasonal industries. The forestry is going down and seasonal jobs are less and less attractive to younger generations. So the population dropped almost 4% from 1996 to 2001 and another 2% from 2001 to 2006. And this was before the closure of the mills. A new Walmart and Boston Pizza won’t make up for that.

The truth is that Miramichi should have a bright future. It has a retail and services catchment population of at least 30,000 people (for whom it is closer to drive to the ‘chi than to Moncton or Bathurst or Freddy Beach). It is close enough to Moncton that services such as the regional hospital or airport are not out of reach but far enough to be distinct (it’s hard to commute from Sillikers to Moncton – Francis McGuire notwithstanding).

But the truth is simple. The main industry the community relied on is in decline. The community needs to replace it. Forget tourism – that’s a silly idea. Replacing $25/hour mill jobs with $8/hour seasonal tourism jobs is a recipe for disaster. Forget plowing money into ‘local entrepreneurship’. That has traditionally been a euphemism for bailing out local firms with bad business models. If there are serious and high growth potential entrepreneurs like FatKat, fine. Roll out the red carpet. Give them the keys to the city. But stop the madness.

No, Miramichi needs a plan to build an anchor industry or two for the 21st century and then work on strategies to attract skilled workers into that sector (or those sectors). I’m partial to the animation cluster idea. Something wood related might still be in the cards – something higher value – biomass or value added manufacturing or some such thing (I don’t know enough to say). Being a manufacturing hub for New Brunswick might be an option. Data centres. Cleantech. Who knows? I’d support just about anything (except tourism) as long as the province, feds and local community stakeholders get serious. Doling out a ‘Miramichi’ fund to ‘special’ projects is almost a laughable idea.

We have spent far too much money in the Miramichi bailing out bad companies (large and small). Far too much money paying people not to work (EI). Far too much money educating people for employment they won’t find in the Miramichi. Far too much money trying to have things like airports and other infrastructure that distracted us from the real issues. Instead of trying to compete with Moncton and Fredericton as a scheduled carrier airport, why didn’t we focus our efforts into making Miramichi an MRO hub for Atlantic Canada? It seems to have worked in Slemon Park.

The bottom line is that Miramichi needs a niche. And you don’t get that by writing a brochure or hanging out a shingle. Miramichi was once a prime location for a pulp mill. Maybe those days are waning. What will it be a prime location for in the 21st century? I refuse to believe that a retirement community is the only option.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to If studying equated results

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just because fatkat is on a roll now means little about the future. That’s essentially where the ‘picking winners and losers’ problem comes from. Who knows what industry will make it big? Imagine if a guy from a rural area outside of Miramichi came in and said “I want to make cymbals”, they’d be laughed out of the building. That’s not ‘strategic’. But there goes Sabian chugging away keeping a village alive for decades. Maybe it is costing taxpayers some, who knows?

    However, it keeps jobs there. Fatkat could be gone next year, and even at the beginning of that, who in their right mind would have gotten on board an animation company that didn’t even use CGI?

    You never know what may take off. There’s a little more of that Moncton bias showing again, when Moncton was hurting everybody chipped in to get it going, and an airport was first on the list. But you begrudge Miramichi? Afraid of the competition? Perhaps they could run an airport without charging you $50 every time you fly out, or have some the rudest employee’s who won’t let you stop for five seconds to pick somebody up.

    However, finding ANY job for a mill worker is tough. Essentially what they know is mill working, animation won’t help them. Of course there’s an easy solution to that, simply buy out the mill and give it to the workers.

  2. David Campbell says:

    The workers taking over the plant may be a viable option. It’s certainly worth evaluation.

  3. NB taxpayer says:

    Great post, David. I’ll add one more thing: economic development via political partisanship will be (and has been) a barrier to true growth.

    Not that I ever agreed with it, but there is a very good chance that the ‘chi could be neglected and/or cut off from large federal funding [projects] for quite sometime if voters decide to send the Harper government a message by keeping a Liberal MP in there for the next 5-10 years. (fixed elections)

    The ‘chi (as well as other destinations in NB) have semi-benefited from the federal Liberals being generous with subsidies and grants while in power. Mostly because that party believes in federal money being a tool [intervening] for growing business. (i.e. HRDC grants, ACOA grants, TPC) However, if subsidization were a successful jobs strategy, then there is no question the ‘chi and the rest of Atlantic Canada would be outpacing the rest of the country in economic growth. It doesn’t seem to work.

    There is the provincial side of things (I know), however, since they want to build the economy through 50/50 partnership with the feds, there is very little chance at all that the feds will come up with the full amount of cash to fund the so-called self-sufficiency agenda. (especially if they didn’t vote for them in an election)

    Say the feds do come up with a portion of the funding pre-election. So what does the Graham government do? They have a plan that is very ambitious, but doesn’t have the capital to completely succeed. So where do they put it? If they are smart (and they had to choose), they would invest the money they have into growing a particular industry in Saint John and Moncton. So where does that leave the ‘chi? Pretty much out in the cold.

    So you can see why we need a bit of private sector growth to balance out these inequities formed by years of government intervention. The imbalance wouldn’t be as bad in the north and the ‘chi if private investment were to be enticed to move in there.

    Regardless of my ranting diatribe, your claims regarding the region are bang on. Let’s hope someone (with a different perspective on the economy) is listening. Because all i’ve seen lately is status quo in the actions and rhetoric of government officials. Not quite certain if that will get us where we want to be?

  4. mikel says:

    Again, the opposite is true. As I’ve said before, the Perimeter Institute here in Waterloo just got more federal funding than ALL of New Brunswick.

    And guess what? Not only does Waterloo not vote conservative, the tory candidate was so far behind that its not even worthwhile for the tories to even try to play the money game.

    The issue is simply that the Perimeter Institute exists, and its a private institution made with private money (sort of) and it fits in with the Knowledge economy.

    The only way the above works is if you say the REGION may be important, in which case it makes no difference who Waterloo votes for, and no difference who Miramichi votes for.

    But I agree, the reality is political, but I contend its the opposite to the above. The maritimes gets nowhere near the subsidies that other parts of Canad a gets, not even close. Just ask why with the Bay of Fundy there is almost no research on tidal power. Ask why I can walk down a hallway here at the University of Waterloo and find more fisheries scientists doing research on maritime fisheries than you can in all NB universities combined.

    Ask why the city of London even exists. Ask where exactly that ACOA money goes, what little of it exists. Do you really think repairing a bridge in St. Quentin is an investment in industry? Sure, the logging industry wants it, but how does it foster economic development?

    Ask why Bombadier gets a fortune to build planes, and Irving gets 50 million to close a shipyard and open a wallboard factory. That’s economic development? The drywall capital of Canada?

    And on and on. But as mentioned, these decisions are all political. I suspect they will be ‘seriously studied’ about the same time as the possibility of a worker owned mill is.

  5. David Campbell says:

    Mikel, you’ve a good handle on the issue. I was thinking recently about the amount of money put into the MaRS project in Toronto. Something like $100 million. That one project gets more money than all government R&D spending in New Brunswick. But New Brunswick does get dough through Equalization and other transfer programs.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A few years back Enterprise Miramichi did a study that said, essentially, “forestry is dying; it’s time to move on.” Instead, the government of the day continued to treat forestry as an industry that could be saved.