Long before natural gas started to be used in New Brunswick as an energy source (at least in its current incarnation), my father used the expression “now you are cooking with gas” when he was talking about something gaining momentum. I asked him recently what he meant by that and he replied it was an old expression he had heard from his father.
It turns out that most folks with a natural gas oven/stove tend to prefer it much more than the electric alternative. Again, a rarity in New Brunswick, in many places around the world, natural gas is the dominant source of residential energy.
I digress. I was trying to explain my title to this blog and suggest that Cooke Aquaculture is now “cooking with gas” as it now says global sales are approaching $1 billion per year. in the finfish aquaculture industry, that makes them a major global player.
I started my column in the TJ this week with this:
I have observed over the years the bigger a firm gets in New Brunswick, the more of a target for criticism it becomes. This is not just a problem in our province, but it does seem to have even greater resonance here. For the most part, we romanticize small business. The small firms are helmed by altruistic, hard-working, roll-up-the-sleeves entrepreneurial New Brunswickers who live alongside us in our local communities, drive trucks and drink Tim Hortons’ coffee. By contrast, the big firms are headed by rapacious, “one per cent” millionaires always using their power to put it over on the rest of us.
I was on News 91.9 this morning explaining myself.
In fact, I did receive two emails after the publishing of this column suggesting that Cooke was a bully, an abuser of the environment and a purveyor of low wage, low skilled jobs.
I’m not here to defend Cooke’s business practices. I have been told by folks that should know that the firm is well respected in its industry and has been doing a lot to ensure it limits the impact of its environmental footprint. But that is not my point.
My point is that New Brunswick’s economy is roughly $28 billion per year (GDP in real terms). It is not strong enough to support the population here in terms of providing enough jobs nor is it strong enough to generate enough tax revenue to pay for public services and infrastructure. Therefore, we lose young people every year to outward migration and we rely heavily on the federal government to help pay for public services and infrastructure.
We need to grow the $28 billion. In a perfect world, we would have an economy large enough to pay for public services without equalization and give young people the opportunity to stay at home and build their careers if they prefer.
The lesson of Cooke is that we need more of them. If we had 100 more firms bringing in $250 million or so each in export revenue each year that would boost the GDP by roughly 60 percent and we would be living in a different province.
So we need to think about the 100. Where will they come from? IT firms? Services? Natural resources? Manufacturing? Imports? Home grown?
Small businesses, as I have said ad nauseum, are critical to the health and vibrancy of local economies but if you want to grow your economy you have to bring more money/investment in and that doesn’t happen by recycling more of the existing business activity.