What can Anne of Green Gables teach us about economic development?

Once in a while a light bulb goes off. Most economic developers would agree that the single biggest deterrent to growth in New Brunswick (and Atlantic Canada for that matter) has been the lack of foreign business investment. This investment is critical to support a growing economy, generate new jobs and stimulate local business activity.

However, one of the main reasons why Atlantic Canada has not been able to attract new foreign business investment is a lack of knowledge about our region and its benefits. ACOA and the provincial governments have spent some time and money trying to promote the region in foreign markets but has not had much success attracting investment.

That brings us to Anne. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourists (most likely millions over the past few decades) have visited Prince Edward Island to feed their interesting obsession with Anne of Green Gables. For whatever reason, Anne is more popular in Japan than in Canada.

The Japanese invest billions of dollars every year in North America – and not one penny of that investment has gone into PEI. This strikes me as very odd. In PEI, you have probably the most visited and one of the most familiar locations in North America to the Japanese and yet no one has attempted to leverage this good will into business investment. How come PEI is not identifying the business people that are bringing their families over to see Anne and then following them back to Japan to promote the merits of setting up a business on the Island?

And that brings us to New Brunswick. We have a similarily odd situation right here. New Brunswick is a very active member of the Francophonie and is second only to Quebec in the pervasiveness of the French language in North America. Yet, of the billions invested by French companies in North America in recent decades, none of it came here. What is even more odd is that Nova Scotia has been able to attract some French investment. Michelin, Composites Atlantic, Eastern Optical Labs and LaFarge all are either French companies or have investment from French companies.

The Premier waxes long and poetic about the value of the Francophonie and the role of New Brunswick. He makes international trips and makes eloquent sound bites but still no French companies have set up in the province.

It’s time for New Brunswick’s economic developers to leverage this good will and unique advantage into business investment. It is shameful that Nova Scotia has been able to attract numerous French business investments while New Brunswick has attracted none.