Since yesterday I have had almost a dozen requests to comment on the proposed ‘refresh’ at Business New Brunswick.
I have outlined my thinking on BNB over the years on this blog so I don’t feel the need to rehash everything but I will make a couple of points.
First, there are lots of good people working for BNB and I feel, from talking to some of them, that some think an indictment of the model is an indictment of the people. Not necessarily so. I also would say that there are a considerable number of voices from within BNB that would like to see a new model. I don’t have the kind of contacts there that I did 5-6 years ago but the few I talk with would like to see changes.
Ultimately, the model you choose to develop and deliver economic development should be aligned with what you are trying to accomplish. I know that sounds simplistic but at some point the most complex ideas need to be boiled down to basic elements.
I have never been sure of the raison d’etre for BNB. It delivers a few programs. It has a small team of folks out knocking on doors and it has a few financial incentives.
As you know, I believe the most effective economic development agencies in the current context will be those that can build broad sector-based value propositions where there is a compelling case for investment into specific growth sectors.
Area Development magazine has a list of 25 key site selection factors and nine important quality of life factors that go into a site selection decision. In other words, these are the primary factors that drive business investment decisions. As you go down the list, you see that the majority of them are directly influenced by government policy, regulation, tax programs, etc. For example, they include highways, taxes, energy availability and cost, availability of skilled labour, unskilled labour, incentives, available land, right-to-work state, regulations, fast track permitting, training programs, airports, universities, railraods, waterways, etc. All directly influenced by government activity. On the QOL front, it’s low crime, healthcare, public schools, universities, recreational and cultural opportunities.
Essentially, other than things like climate, government can influence the vast majority of the issues on which business investment decisions are made.
In addition, it is my belief that companies don’t make investment decisions based on a generic value proposition. They make decisions based on the value proposition for their industry in your community or province.
Therefore, my vision for BNB is an organization that has a few highly targeted – high growth potential sectors in which the vision is to create thousands of high paying jobs over the next decade – enough economic activity to drive the self-sufficiency agenda forward. For each of these sectors, BNB would then go down the list of site selection factors and develop a comprehensive and compelling value proposition. That might mean tax incentive programs, targeting R&D efforts, getting universities to graduate more people with the skills for the targeted industries, aligning immigration efforts to the needed skillsets, developing telecommunications and energy policies that make the province compelling for these targeted growth sectors, on and on.
So BNB should be organized as a network/catalyst organization that links together all the disparate but related efforts throughout government. It should also be highly focused on a few targeted growth sectors. Instead of having one person half-time dedicated to a specific sector, there should be teams of people per sector with deep sector knowledge and serious budgets to get things done.
And it should also be a sales-driven organization. You can’t catalyze economic development without being sales-driven. It needs to sell sell sell. Internally, cross-departmental, to elected officials, to other levels of government, to NB based business and to global business.
This view of BNB as banker of last resort is not the proper vision. That function should be the smallest part of what BNB is.
It should have a corporate structure. VP of Sales, CEO, etc. That is just better aligned with the target market.
I encourage folks to post. Not just complaints or criticisms – real ideas.