Full disclosure, please

I read this morning that a call centre is opening up in Miramichi:

Hostopia.com Inc. will open a call centre to provide technical support for its customers across North America and Europe, producing 207 jobs in a city that has been rocked by mill closures that will leave a total of 800 people out of work by August.

I have said on these pages that we have to get beyond ‘call centres’ as the only economic development tool we have. But, of course, there are call centres and then there are call centres.

So, I hope when this thing is announced this morning, they will tell us:

-Exactly the type of work that will be done.

-Exactly the wage rates (these have been missing in recent job announcements).

Because a high end, Tier II technical support centre paying $50k per year and up is one thing. A call centre that signs up new members and basic support paying $12/hour is another.

The central theme of the self sufficiency strategy of the government is that by 2025 the province will generate enough ‘own source’ tax revenue such that it won’t need the $1.6 billion in Equalization.

Based on this, they must support the creation of jobs that raise the average wage rates (and therefore the taxes paid).

I don’t know what a mill job is worth these days but it must be at least in the $20 to $25/hour range with good benefits.

We can’t replace these jobs with $9/hour, seasonal tourism jobs and $12/hour basic call centre jobs. This will be in direct conflict with the core element of the self-sufficiency strategy.

In fact, replacing $25/hour jobs with $12/hour jobs will lower own source revenue and lead to more dependency on Equalization.

Now, my economic development folks will tell me to stop complaining. That $12/hour is better than no $$/hour. And that there are no alternatives.

But I have to disagree. The call centre strategy and attract program was developed and implemented almost 20 years ago. There have been whole new sectors that have come and gone and New Brunswick has done nothing to even try and mimic the call centre success.

Digital media, alternate energy, data centres, financial services back offices, pharma back offices, niche nearshore manufacturing, e-Learning, language translation, aircraft MROs, etc. are just a sampling of some sectors that a) can pay much higher wage rates than most call centres and b) that New Brunswick has some nascent competitive advantage(1).

The problem is that it will take more work. More thinking. More creative. More investment and more sales efforts to get New Brunswick on the map for these or other sectors.

So, in conclusion, I say congratulations to BNB for attracting this firm to Miramichi. Please fully disclosure the nature and payscale of the jobs. And, for goodness sake, do something to get beyond call centres.

1. Take aircraft maintenance and repair operations as one example. The NBCC has been pumping out graduates for this sector for years and the majority of them end up in Montreal or Halifax or somewhere where there are actual jobs for them.