One of the things that I grapple with is this issue of exponentiality in economic development. How do you take a kernal of economic development and turn it into a huge tree that keeps cranking out economic benefits for decades.
The call centre industry in New Brunswick has a bit of this in it but I am looking for other models. How does Halifax turn a nascent financial industry (9-10 firms with a couple of thousand workers when they are built out) into a back office powerhouse like Edinburgh with 100+ firms and 30,000 workers? How does an aerospace cluster emerge from a few small players?
Take aquaculture. Now, some of you might know all the back story here to take my comments as an exemplar. The industry was developed – with the help of government and university R&D -and a few private sector players dove in and eventually we had a $150 million industry with likely double that in total economic activity in New Brunswick. Then the industry tanked a bit, had problems and consolidated and now is doing reasonably okay.
But my point is how come we didn’t blow that out into New Brunswick becoming a world leader in aquaculture? I realize we are restricted in the availability of farmable sites (onshore and offshore) but why didn’t New Brunswick emerge as the idea hub for the industry. The head office of aquaculture development?
For example. I just listened to a BBC documentary on the emergence of deep water, offshore aquaculture. There are some that say this industry will be huge and are already predicting it will generate 40%-50% of total fish protein need within 30 years. Why doesn’t that eminate out of New Brunswick? Weren’t we among the first in back in the 1980s?
Imagine that New Brunswick was the home base for a multi-billion offshore, deep sea aquaculture industry. All the head office jobs, all the R&D jobs, all the remote monitoring stations, all the travel to/from the farms, the harvesting jobs, the shipping jobs, the conferences, the university jobs, the manufacturing jobs, etc. You get the point.
How do we take a small, homey industry with some hard working farmers and seasonal workers and turn it into a global powerhouse? Obviously we need the private sector to lead. We need a few global players (like this guy developing football field sized farms off Hawaii to grow tuna) to take the lead but what is the role of government? Of community leaders? Of the university community? Can we catalyze this or not?
Are we left to the whims of the market? Some guy in California with money and entrepreneurial spirits steals the IP from Chile and New Brunswick and adapts it to the offshore?
Michael Porter would say that these kinds of innovations should bubble up and out of an existing cluster – maybe like the nascent on in New Brunswick. But he is wrong. Entrepreneurs sniff out opportunity and steal ideas from places like New Brunswick.
Maybe the window of opportunity on aquaculture is closed. I don’t know. But what is next? What can we jump on with some government investment and strong private sector participation that could lead to an exponential industry growth?
Why does that matter? It matters because small, incremental growth won’t redress New Brunswick’s problems which have an economic core but that emanate out into social problems, under-education, chronic out-migration, lack of self-esteem, entrepreneurial timidity, lack of risk capital, etc.