Back to economic development

Most people who surf by this blog every once in a while are looking for economic development commentary and not political rambling so back to basics.

There have been a few issues I have come up against in the past few weeks that reinforce my believe that economic development circa 2006 has got to be about ‘alignment’. I have discussed this topic before but it’s well worth a continued chat.

Alignment in economic development terms is essentially about two things: 1) creating a sustainable, long term competitive advantage in a specific sector and 2) building a critical mass (or the dreaded word cluster) that will sustain an industry long term. Take aerospace for example. There have been dozens of articles in the past few weeks about how the changing landscape for the aerospace industry in Canada will be good news for this country. However, if you read closely, it will be good news for Greater Montreal and, I have been reading, British Columbia. If you look at Nova Scotia, they too are benefitting from a resurgent aerospace sector. But New Brunswick? Nah.

So, what is alignment? Here would be an example.

New Brunswick wants to be a world leader in e-Learning (online education). Alignment would be:

  • Confirming with young people in high schools that working in this sector would be compelling enough to stay in New Brunswick.
  • Building e-learning diploma programs throughout the NBCC system.
  • Building e-Learning degree courses at the universities (usability, interface design, social impacts of learning online).
  • Aligning immigration strategies to attract persons for the e-Learning sector (India has a large e-Learning sector as one target country).
  • Aligning in-migration strategies to attract persons for the e-Learning sector (come to New Brunswick we’re leading the way)
  • Attracting a world class e-Learning expert to head up an e-Learning Research Chair at UNB.
  • Building a world class e-Learning multilingual translation and localization centre at UdeM as a joint venture with LexiTech.
  • Attracting a number of world class e-Learning companies to set up development studios and student interaction centres here. Also to do R&D here with the universities.
  • Support the growth of startups in the e-Learning space.
  • Be a model user of e-Learning within the New Brunswick education system (practice what you preach).
  • Encourage our larger firms to be model users of e-Learning (practice what you preach).

What this would result in (if done properly) would be New Brunswick emerging as THE place in the world for e-Learning. Companies would want to come here. Local entrepreneurs would want to start companies in this sector. Our universities would build unique advantages that would give them a global competitive advantage. Thousands of young New Brunswickers would stay here to work in good, well paid jobs.

Now, I’m not advocating e-Learning. I think the four or five sectors that the province should focus on should come be determined through a thorough process of internal reflection (what does the next generation of New Brunswickers want to do?) and external analysis (what are growth areas where New Brunswick could reasonably compete?).

From this blog you know I am a fan of e-Learning, computer animation, automotive manufacturing, help desks, health care (yes as a growth sector and not just an expense), energy/alternative energy, etc. But ultimately, I would suggest that the province get widespread buy-in for whatever sectors are chosen and that would give the mandate to make serious hundred millions worth of investments. I just read about a state that wants to raise $1.5 billion or some figure to support eocnomic development. You need to spend money to make money.

Alignment. It’s not just about BNB or even about an eager Premier. It’s about all the stakeholders – all government departments, educational institutions, small biz groups, etc. getting behind a list of priority sectors.