I had one of those conversations over the weekend with a thoughtful guy who is just convinced that places like New Brunswick can’t really build any competitive new industry clusters. We are just too far out of the way, too small, too ignored by government, etc. etc. etc. He thinks the best we can hope for is to use our natural resources, and hope that a few local entrepreneurs – who are attached to the place – step up and build companies. When big companies take over NB firms (like salesforce.com) he thinks that eventually, they will close it and move the work to California or somewhere else.
When I mention the call centre industry, he told me that was an aberration. A fluke because we had all this cheap, bilingual labour at a time when all these big companies were expanding their call centre needs rapidly. He said that can’t be repeated again.
The truth is it could be repeated. Not in exactly the same way but it could be repeated.
Think about the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Here is the summary from its website:
One of the oldest and largest science parks in North America, The Research Triangle Park (RTP) is a 7,000 acre development that is home to more than 170 companies employing over 38,000 full-time knowledge workers. Located at the core of the Raleigh-Durham-Cary CSA (Combined Statistical Area), RTP is a globally prominent high-technology research and development center that serves as an economic driver for the region. RTP is home to a broad spectrum of companies — from Fortune 100 multinational research and development operations, to university spin-outs and start-up operations. In addition, a number of U.S. federal agencies have a presence in the Park.
I lived inVirginia for six years and visited North Carolina on many occasions. No one will ever tell me that North Carolina circa 1980 was that much more developed than New Brunswick. Even today its education levels, persons under the poverty line, literacy, etc. are similar to New Brunswick.
And yet the RTP was developed from virtually nothing in North Carolina. It had a solid base of federal government research institutions, strong support and influence from the university, a pile of incentives, an international team of people promoting it to global research companies, a little luck, etc. But it was built in a place not too dissimilar from New Brunswick, Canada.
There are dozens of examples of this.
Anyone who says categorically that New Brunswick cannot foster growth industries is not basing their position on facts.
Of course, I never said it would be easy. If it was easy, there would be no chronically poor regions.