Province exceeds business envoys target

Shipley’s got a piece in the TJ today saying that the province has exceeded its target for 100 business ambassadors.

While in general I think this is great, I do have to say that I remain a little suspicious of the motives of some. The fact that the NB Biz Council responded to the Self Sufficiency report by saying that the government should not put so much focus on attracting industry causes me concern. Are these same people then supposed to be out selling the province as a place to move your business to?

The truth is that I have studied over a dozen business ambassador models an in all cases they involved local and global business leaders from the region proactively trying to attract new industry to the region. For example, Frank McKenna using his contacts in the financial sector to attract back offices to New Brunswick or the head of an Internet company using his contacts in Silicon Valley to attract companies and people here. In fact, in many cases (such as Boston), company CEOs were working to attract direct competitors to the region. Why? Because they realize their markets are not local – they are global. They realize that the larger the cluster, the larger the talent pool, the more research being conducted, etc. They are able to see beyond just another ‘competitor’ for my labour pool and someone pushing up wages by 50 cents an hour.

Our local businesses – the ones competing outside this market – need to have the same view. Ganong should want more confectionary manufacturers here – to build the cluster. Sure, it might put upward pressure on wages. Sure it will put increasing pressure on the labour market but Ganong himself has said that being an isolated manufacturer on the periphery of North America is not good business model. But if New Brunswick was the confectionary capital of North America – with Baskin Robbins, Nestle, Lindt, etc. with manufacturing here you would have research at UNB, you would have a confectionary industry association, you would have community college programs turning out industry trained graduates.

Now, don’t go all Rambo on me and tell me about the Hershey plant going under in Halifax and the other confectionary firms that have gone under. I realize that. I also know that Lindt and Nestle are heavily expanding their North American business. The other benefit of having a critical mass of firms is that there isn’t as much impact when one closes (think the three call centres that closed/downsized recently).

That’s what the NB Biz Council doesn’t get (or at least some of them). It is hard to grow a business – a true global business- in an isolated market with no critical mass. With no local suppliers, a limited local specialized labour pool, no R&D capacity, etc.

So these ‘envoys’ should be out selling NB – selling their competitors – suppliers – partners – etc. on setting up in New Brunswick. On building a critical mass of firms in targeted sectors.

I really feel that with the dollar at parity, many of our firms – the isolated ones that have been making their marging soley on the 70 cent dollar – are in jeopardy.

So go out and sell, ambassadors. But before you go, ask Greg Byrne what you are supposed to be selling.

Because, that is now the $64,000 question – or should I say the $1.03 question.