"Evidence-based" economic development

I do some work in the health care sector and this term “evidence-based” has become commonplace. Everything now has to be “evidence-based from strategic planning to clinical practice.

Now, you might say that is self-evident – particularly in health care. However, the contrary is true. Many doctors, for example, are widely known to have their own particular way of doing things. Older doctors will do things one way, newer ones another. In many cases gut feel or limited experience drives the decisions of health care practitioners. So, evidence-based thinking has been introduced to ensure that health care practitioners are making decisions based on probability and widely accepted precendent rather than gut feel.

I think that the economic development community should adopt a similiar approach. Not that there is no room for gut feel or anomolous behaviour. However, in general, if something has worked in other jurisdictions – many other jurisdictions – maybe we would be wise to look at it here as well.

I don’t know that there is much “evidence-based” thinking the economic development community in New Brunswick.

For example, take Business New Brunswick’s approach to industry development incentives. They talk about ‘tailored’ packages structured to an individual company’s needs. The Premier was recently quoted as saying this which now makes this the standard line for the past five Premiers (McKenna, Frenette, Theriault, Lord and Graham).

The problem is that I can’t find any other jurisdiction talking in this fashion. Nova Scotia has their flagship payroll rebate program. Other jurisdictions have specific tax breaks. Others have training grants with clearly defined program parameters.

I know that many of you don’t like to talk about ‘incentives’ but they still rank in the top three site selection criteria for North American business. So, ignoring it won’t go away.

Alberta has its tax breaks for oil development. Ontario has its Auto incentives. Quebec has multiple programs. Just about every province and state in North America offers some form of well defined, criteria-based incentive program and when you look at New Brunswick, you get this ‘tailored’ thing.

I think New Brunswick needs to decide what sectors it wants to develop and then develop clear strategies to develop those sectors – including maybe tax breaks or training grants or R&D support for that specific sector or infrastructure funding – whatever.

Then companies looking at New Brunswick would clearly know what programs are available and their impact – just like most other regions.

3 thoughts on “"Evidence-based" economic development

  1. Good post, David.

    My position is that BNB will never be as productive as it could be if it were at arms length from the government. Tory or Liberal? it is just too politicized. (and some of its decisions over the years reflect that)

    I think it’s time to put an Inc. at the end of BNB.

  2. That’s an outstanding idea. Throw in a good board of directors and maybe sprinkle in some private sector funding and you’ve got yourself a model that could work. Economic development should be as free from politics as possible.

    NSBI is a good place to start. It’s certainly not a perfect model but to start…

  3. Great idea. Maybe that’s something that independent minded business types here in New Brunswick could start on their own? With help from small, medium and large donations from the private sector.

    For the record, I’m not talking about stacking the board with the same ol, same ol CEOs who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are — I won’t name any names, but I’m sure you know who i’m talking about.

    Anyway, something to think about. Have a great weekend…I hear the weather is going to be fantastic…so enjoy!!

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