Hey! Over here! The best city for business!

Canadian Business magazine recently ranked Moncton as the best city for business in Canada (outside Quebec – two small cities in that province had better scores). Regardless of the fact that their methodology was biased in favour of small cities (focusing on criteria such as low costs, low crime and low cost of living and not considering access to access to skilled labour, research & development capacity and other cluster elements found in the big cities), it is still a very good news story for Moncton and for New Brunswick.

Why is it good news? Presumably, we can use this title as a marketing tool to attract new business to the region. However, a title such as this will be no good without a significant marketing campaign to promote it. Because the provincial government has been grinding down its efforts to promote the province as a good place for business, it will be up to the local community to pick up this ball and run with it. I hope that Enterprise Greater Moncton will promote this title broadly in Canada and the U.S. And I further hope it will lead to more new businesses coming to Moncton. Let me tell you why.

In the 1990s, each year an average of 4-5 new businesses from outside New Brunswick were setting up in Greater Moncton with the direct influence/support of the provincial government. The then Department of Economic Development and Tourism had an aggressive strategy to bring new businesses into New Brunswick in sectors including call centres, manufacturing and information technologies. Not to mention the fact that they had the ultimate lead sales guy in Frank McKenna. In the past five years or so, these efforts have been scaled back with predictable results. By my estimates, there have only been a half a dozen or so (or less) new firms set up in Moncton since the change of government in 1999 that came in with the direct influence/support of the provincial government. I do not include expansions of existing companies in Greater Moncton because they were already here and benefiting from the Canadian Business-appointed Best City for Business.

Don’t get me wrong. There are all kinds of new businesses setting up in New Brunswick from the Home Depot to Walmart to new restaurants. But take a closer look at the type of businesses that have been fuelling Moncton’s growth in the past five years. These are retail services and food services that come to a community after it starts to grow strongly. Following this short retail and services boom, what will be the next economic driver for Moncton? Where will the next 5,000 call centre jobs come from? Where will the next 1,500 manufacturing jobs come from? Where will the next 800 IT jobs come from? Without these jobs, the current retail and construction boom in Moncton would be nonexistent.

I believe that government has a major role to play here. They can help create a positive climate for business in the community. Then they can sell the heck out of it. It seems that we have the first part, now we must ask ‘Can we sell it?’.

For those of you that have short memories, Moncton was in the Report on Business magazine’s Best Cities for Business four times in the 1990s. It wasn’t that accolade that attracted dozens of major corporations to our city. It was the effective selling of that idea that led to success.

Maybe if Frank is not too busy these days, we should hire him to once again sell the province as a great place for business. Before it’s too late.