Microsoft supports my positions

In recent days I have stated two key issues related to economic development: 1) Don’t rely on government jobs to drive growth (this in response to the fact that something like 40% of the net new jobs in New Brunswick are from health, education and public administration) and 2) the need to focus on a few key sectors.

Well, it would seem that the VP of Microsoft agrees with me. Check out what he said recently in Scotland:

Microsoft chief tells Scots: focus on games
The Scotsman
January 27, 2006

BOB McDowell, vice-president of software giant Microsoft, yesterday warned one of the Scottish Parliament’s most influential economic committees, to “make sure the public sector does not represent the majority of growth” in Scotland.

Offering his thoughts on a future Scottish economy, McDowell – who spearheaded Microsoft’s expansion into Scotland in the mid-1990s and is now the company’s leading international spokesman on how to get a financial return on IT investment – praised the Scottish brand as “truly recognised worldwide”.

But he said that if the country was to make its mark “it has to act now” to focus hard on far fewer sectors. He highlighted video games, food and intellectual property as prime candidates, but suggested there was still not enough effective commercialisation of the country’s education sector, adding the country’s biggest employers are playing too small a role in shaping what business skills are taught in schools and universities.

“There aren’t many people in the world who would think about Scotland in a negative way, but the down side of being small is that you can’t afford too many mistakes,” he warned.

Speaking to the cross-party group on the economy, McDowell – who has more than 30 years’ experience in the technology sector and serves on the International Advisory Board of Scottish Enterprise – said the games industry should become “one of Scotland’s main focuses”.

In a week when the country suffered yet another hi-tech inward investment disaster in the shape of the US computer printer maker Lexmark closing its factory in Rosyth, the former US defence department official and Ernst & Young partner said Scotland must effectively walk away from major IT manufacturing in the future, in favour of R&D or more specialist areas, such as technology patenting.

Microsoft installed its first director in Scotland, Raymond O’Hare, in 2004, and last year signed an exclusive deal with Dundee-based games firm Real Time Worlds last summer for the rights to its new game, “Crackdown”, which is being developed for the next generation of Xbox.

Crackdown is due to be released in June and McDowell called the game – the development of which instantly meant Real Time expanded its workforce by 30 per cent to make it the biggest independent games company in Scotland – one of the “most important consumer products in our history” and said the Scottish technology sector should be encouraged to “focus on just that kind of deal”.

He added: “Scotland’s brand is strong, but the challenges now are to make certain that only the best pieces of Scotland are emphasised. Concentrating on local wealth creation is critical but you have to make sure the public sector does not represent the majority of growth.”

A self-confessed food lover, McDowell said restaurants such as The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye and Number One in Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel, were “world class” and evidence of the “market strength you’ve got in this country around culinary expertise”.

On education, which McDowell called “a requirement for all to be successful”, he urged more involvement by business in the “intellectual horsepower” being developed throughout the country.

“Scotland must try to decrease the gap between business and education. Education should be viewed as a factory with business as its biggest customers, and it should decide what it builds,” he said.

McDowell suggested that instead of the country’s universities and colleges attempting to sell their knowledge or develop spin-outs, the sector would be better served by “marketing the education sector as a whole”.

He added: “Critical mass grows business – group the successes in one place and focus on a few areas.”

Sounds pretty good to me.