I had a great conversation with an engineer in Freddy Beach last week and we talked about why the Capital City has a higher concentration of engineers than any other city in Canada (with at least 25k population). I was a bit surprised when he told me that most of the firms are doing significant national and international work from their Freddy offices. Usually, with the exception of Toronto and a few select large cities, professional services(engineering, architecture, accounting, etc.) tends to be primarily local (or provincial) market based. I say primarily because many of the larger firms (or niche specialists) might do some work in adjacent provinces or even internationally but the 90% or more would be in-province.
But a concentration of capacity – say engineering in the case of Freddy – leads to the building of expertise that is applicable beyond the local market and a little bit of scale allows the firm to promote itself beyond the borders (and also national firms like Stantec have that capacity already).
Forgive me because I am just thinking out loud but maybe there is a role for micro-focus in economic development. I am the first one out there to say NB needs to focus – to get really good at something – to have deep supply chains – to have alignment with education – to have favourable tax polices – etc.
But who’s to say there could be smaller, high value areas where we could achieve some success. Take engineering. The guy I was talking with talked about some of the barriers to attracting engineering talent here. Maybe we could work to remove those barriers.
My point is that if we are strong in small, niche areas – maybe we should micro-focus. Could we bring together the engineering firms and craft a growth strategy? Maybe it would only bring a couple of hundred new jobs over five years but they would be great jobs.
And what if we had 10 or 12 of these industry-led groups all out there plugging along? A couple hundred jobs each over 12 industries – high value jobs – would be a big start down the pathway of righting our moribund economy.
I haven’t really thought this through but I think it is worth discussing.