NB Business Council – Another Dog and Pony Show?

Right off the bat, you will have to excuse my cynicism. When I saw the headline of this new ‘New Brunswick Business Council’ made up of the ‘top CEOs’ in the province whose mandate is to tackle the serious problems facing New Brunswick, I was intrigued.

But then I heard it was an initiative of the Premier’s new “5 in 5” – Prosperity Plan part deux and my heart sunk. Then I read their statement of purpose and got thoroughly depressed. First, however; the good elements of their statement:

Others are challenging the results of equalization and other transfers, which contribute almost 40 per cent of New Brunswick’s provincial budget.

Our numbers are declining in real terms and as a percentage of the population of a growing Canada. Many of our younger people are responding to opportunities elsewhere. New Brunswick attracts a growing number of immigrants, but we need to do a better job of helping them get established. An aging population means higher health-care costs.

[This is not true – we attracted three times as many immigrants in the 1970s as today]

We need to make significant improvement in student achievement as reflected in comparative testing. The rate of participation in post-secondary education must increase. We cannot continue to aspire to a modern economy and have one of the lowest literacy rates in Canada.

[I’ll get back to this one]

We are not the first place to face tough challenges. Some excellent examples of dramatic turn-arounds exist in Ireland, New Zealand and Finland. People working together toward common goals truly can create a brighter future.

[Good points]

Now the finale:

We hope to work with government and others toward:
*encouraging growth in the number of innovative companies based in the Province;
*fostering the development of entrepreneurial skills among New Brunswickers;
*helping more New Brunswickers take full advantage of educational opportunities;
*investing in the wellness of our own employees, their families, and all New Brunswickers;
*contributing to a stronger policy dialogue in New Brunswick; and;
*encouraging New Brunswick to think bigger and for the longer term.

Great. The dozen or so top CEOs in New Brunswick and not a mention of attracting industry. Not a scrap about the importance of attracting global companies here. Vested interests galore. I love these guys (no gals?) and their companies but the economy has underperformed Canada for decades with these companies in place. So is it reasonable to assume this will continue?

Remember, the chairman of Ganong, the head of this organization, said recently that the only reason his company remained in New Brunswick was its ‘ties to the community’. He stated that the business model would be better if he was located in Mississauga (I vigorously argued against this at the time).

One of these CEOs, I won’t mention which one, was highly outraged when a large international firm came in to New Brunswick and raided a few of his employees. How dare we attract firms that will steal his employees. He liked things fine the way they were (by the way, the new firm stole his employees because he was paying crap and the new guys pay more).

Don’t get me wrong. I probably couldn’t mop the floor for most of these guys. I respect their business savvy and their talent. But I have seen hundreds of these ‘groups’ all across North America from Chambers of Commerce to think tanks and almost all of these organizations state upfront the critical importance of attracting global businesses to their communities, states and provinces. In New Brunswick, our top CEOs talk about education and policy dialogue.

These guys need to get beyond their vested interests. Guess what? If we bring in more global investment it will put upward pressure on your wages. Good. It will put pressure on your globally lowest rates of employee turnover. Good. It will force you to pay benefits (Atlantic Canadian companies are among the worst payers of employee benefits in Canada). Good. It will force you to invest in employee training (again we are among the lowest). Good. It might force these guys to invest in R&D (New Brunswick businesses are the lowest investors in R&D in Canada).

So, in conclusion, I am all for this new organization. I hope it doesn’t become another gentelman’s club. I hope they get beyond their own vested interests. I hope they realize the critical importance of global investment – even if it forces them to be more competitive.

But I don’t bet on it.