Sometimes I chafe at simplistic summaries of real issues but as a columnist I realize it’s hard to fully make the case for anything in 600 words. But his underlying point that New Brunswick companies need to get a whole lot more productive is a good one.
New Brunswick has relied on ‘cheap’ labour and lower costs for a long time. I have speculated that a major reason why so many NB firms are against attracting national and international firms here is that it will drive up wages and costs – an objective of economic development but not one that interests many firms in the province. In fact, just last week I had a conversation with a great company in the Maritimes doing very interesting things but the boss was adamantly against any efforts to attract firms like his to the region because they would just raid his workers and drive up costs. My argument about the cluster effects from having many similar firms in a local market fell on deaf ears.
So, it makes logical sense that we need to figure out how to be more productive but I think that has to be thought through – at a firm and industry level – very carefully. I have witnessed first hand how companies can blow through hundreds of thousands on I.T. and it not get them anywhere (greased with government grants).
The broader issue is really about redefining the value proposition for targeted industries in New Brunswick. The province should have lower costs – not deeply lower – but lower costs because that is relatively normal when comparing large urban areas to small urban areas. But the value proposition needs to go well beyond cost if we are to be effective going forward.