Northern econ. dev. redux

I actually got a couple of telephone calls over my blog on Northern NB the other day.

Maybe I’ll boil my thinking down to one simple concept. Make that two.

1. Do you want to be about hanging on or growing? Because most of what I see from the North these days is about hanging on: topping up the EI program, demanding no more hospital bed closures, demanding funding for the airport, etc. What you should be demanding is economic development support.

2. I think the North (led by the mayors) should issue a manifesto of their own calling for a new ‘grand bargain’. They should state their own desire to become ‘self sufficient’. They should collectively commit to many of the changes required internally to make this happen (i.e. EI reform for one). Then they should reach out to their partners in Freddy and Ottawa to help them achieve this goal. Talk about turning the tables. Northern NB wants to be a leading region in North America for rural economic renewal. It wants to follow Northern New York and become a hub for Canadian data centres. It wants to follow the new rural southern US and become a rural manufacturing centre. It wants to build new animation industries leveraging the great work at NBCC Miramichi. It wants to become a language translation centre for all of Canada. It wants to [fill in the blank].

And while I’m on the topic. I think the North should be very deliberate about attracting talented people from outside the region. Heck, outside the country. I was in a session yesterday with a transplant from Pennsylvania (now in Moncton). He was brash, determined, articulate (maybe all the things we actually like about the Yanks). I think we need some of this grafted onto Northern NB. This is not to take away anything from the people but just a clear realization that if your top export for decades is your people, you need to recognize that you lost a lot of intellectual horsepower over the years. Now, we need to bring it back. I’d like to see half the economic developers over there be brought in from succesful rural economic renewal areas across North America.

I know I will get ridiculed for this the same way Shawn Graham’s idea to bring in top external talent to help with government renewal was roundly trashed (and now seems to have died).

But, in the words of the old sage Donald Savoie, economic development is only about two things: people and money. That’s it.

And we have been bleeding people and money for decades. It’s time to bring back both.