From a recent column in the TJ:
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a little country Baptist church in Upper Blackville a small community located on Route 8 between Doaktown and Blackville along the southwest branch of the Miramichi river.
In his opening prayer, the minister called for an economic revival in the Miramichi intoning that the people needed good jobs and income to support their families and the local community. I have attended Baptist churches all my life and although it is common to hear prayer for politicians to have wisdom when governing the affairs of the province, it is rare to hear a minister pray for a stronger economy.
Good for him. It certainly can’t hurt but we should also follow that old maxim “the Lord helps those that help themselves”.
Who is out there in our communities working to make it happen?
All those small communities along the Miramichi river and across New Brunswick were established to take advantage of an economic opportunity. Over the decades, generations of local entrepreneurs and external businesses invested in the communities and took advantage of new opportunities as they arose.
What are those opportunities now? Where is the next round of entrepreneurs and investors? Who is actively seeking to foster new economic opportunities across the province?
A cynic might conclude there is far more focus on ensuring fish in the Miramichi river than in ensuring there are people living in the communities along the river.
There are federal and provincial government departments working to support the fish population. There are associations of fishermen and conservationists advocating on behalf of the fish.
Environmentalists are also deeply concerned about the fish and every single natural resources-based industrial project has to prove there will be minimal impact on fish stocks.
However, when you come out of the water to complain about the decline in population and economic activity in the human communities along the river you get the nonchalant response that we need to “let the free market work” and are told it’s only common sense that folks should move to where there are jobs.
If I made the same point about fish, I’d be run out of town with pitchforks. To be honest I will probably get nasty emails just because I used fish in a tongue-in-cheek way in this column.
But there is a serious point here.
Somebody needs to be thinking about these issues. When the economic tectonic plates are shifting how can we shift as well to ensure our communities remain economically vibrant?
I worry that so much government activity these days is focused on giving out money to business that very little time is left over to think about other things. There are a dozen different federal and provincial funding agencies willing to give money to entrepreneurs and fund good ideas and almost no one thinking about where those entrepreneurs and good ideas will come from in the first place.
This thinking can range from the general such as how do we make Saint John an attractive location for software development firms to the specific such as where can we find a well-respected multinational firm to help us extract and process potash.
It’s not just about big cities either. A small community may wish to attract a coffee shop, country inn and convenience store. Finding three ambitious entrepreneurs to take on these roles would be just as important to a small town as attracting a large manufacturer to a big city.
We can sit around earnestly praying for economic revival or we can go out and make stuff happen.