I didn’t need those Christmas cards anyway

I suspect after what I say this morning, I will likely be removed from a few Christmas card lists. However, there are a couple of things in the media this a.m. that cause my causticity this morning.

First, I hear the opening of the Molson Brewery was a grand success. 2,000 people involved. Parties all night. Good stuff.

Actually, I am happy the brewery is here. I think this company is a good employer (wages/benefits/working conditions) and a good community citizen (they are known for sponsoring local events, investing in the community). This is mostly a good news story.

But I objected to the bidding war with Nova Scotia to get them here and I still do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with strategic investments in company infrastructure and training to attract good employers with a strong tax ROI for the community and provincial government. But I think there should be consistency and logic in the approach. The Lord government threw something like $80k to $100k per job at Molson (and this doesn’t include the water deal) in cash to land the plant. This is the highest per job investment probably since Bricklin (unless Lord’s Nackawic deal goes sour than you are looking at $200k+ per job). What galls a lot of economic developers is that for this level of public investment, New Brunswick could have competed for the 1,000 job Ubisoft animation studio(s) in Quebec or anyone of a number of other large projects (remember the project I told you about from the late 1990s where there were 1,200 jobs on the line and the government ‘package’ totalled about $24k per job.

So, the bottom line here is the Lord wanted a win – politically – and he got it (though it didn’t seem to reap the political dividends). My thinking on this is that the government should be a lot more transparent and consistent with their economic development incentive programs. We don’t even get on the radar for hundreds of potentially beneficial projects with our “we can’t compete” attitude and then we give up the store for a Molson plant that might create 50 jobs. Wrong headed.

Second thing this morning is the naming of ‘ambassadors’ for promoting New Brunswick abroad. This has been done with relative success by a number of jurisdictions and it makes sense. However, I still think the issue these days is what are we selling? We have a tightening labour market, an operating cost environment that is now more expensive than the vast majority of U.S. communities, and very few ‘clusters’ of economic activity (other than call centres). If I was advising the powers that be my focus would be much more these days on answering the question “what are we selling” than going out and sell, sell, sell. Sometimes, you gotta pull the sales guys off the road and regroup. This, IMO, is one of those times.