I walked by a store today called “Next Day Blinds”. I was so curious I went in and sure enough it is a chain of retail stories that offers only next day blinds.
In some ways that is the essence of capitalism (or the essence of silliness). You have an industry called construction, then a sub-industry called windows and doors, then a sub-sub-industry called window decoration, then a sub-sub-sub-industry called window blinds, then a sub-sub-sub-sub-industry called blinds that are delivered in 24 hours. It is the ultimate niching. Entrepreneurs that carve out the tiniest of wedges in an industry – people that need to customize their blinds and have them in 24 hours.
We see this kind of niching in just about every industry from food to telephones.
And if you will allow me, I’ll use it as an illustration of economic development (there are no perfect analogies but this one has some efficacy).
At the same time we have have micro-niching like this, we also have the Wal-Mart effect. At the same time, we have a dominating retail category that wants to be all things to all people. You want it, we got it. On the other end of the spectrum, customized blinds ready in 24 hours.
We have Richard Florida and John Ibbitson, et. al out there preaching to governments (and getting very rich) that they need to be a Wal-Mart economy. Focus on one or more giant urban areas where you get critical mass of workforce, infrastructure, etc. That’s when you get the concentration need to attract R&D, business investment and talent.
To them, the idea of small communities that are very successful with very tight micro-niches (Nextday Blinds) is completely off the table. It’s all about the WalMart.
Now I don’t to extend the illustration too far because the logical retort is that these little micro-niche players have a very high attrition rate while WalMart has staying power.
But I am not advocating that Moncton be only a call centre town or Saint John only be an energy hub. Because, just like being an auto manufacturing town, one dominant industry or company is not a good economic development strategy.
I am advocating that smaller urbans (yes, even the Miramichi) can have the right people, infrastructure and cost structure to attract investment in a few key areas and be successful economies that are generating enough tax revenue to pay for government services and attracting people and investment.
Not everyone wants to shop at Walmart and not everyone wants to live in Manhattan.