That whole forest for the trees thing

They say age brings understanding. Maybe. For me, the older I get the more I realize how little I really do know. I had a few conversations over the past week that have highlighted this fact.

The bottom line is that I am trying to cut a wide swath on this blog. Broad concepts around how to do economic development, attract industry and people, etc. But there are folks that focus on discrete little wedges and go infinitely more deep than I do and I listen to them talk with great interest.

But I would say this. Some of the smartest people I know in government, economic development and industry have unbelieveable depth on their specific focus areas but don’t seem to have much idea at all about the big picture.

I have used the word ‘ecosystem’ to describe economies and how they move forward or backward and I think that term is becoming increasingly relevant to me the more I study this stuff.

For example, we just spent 20 to 30 years at both the provincial and federal government levels gearing our economic development efforts towards the creation of and growth of small businesses. Have a look at all of the programs out there from BNB to ACOA and even the NRC. It’s all about the small fry. $10k for young entpreneurs to start their businesses. A few thousand bucks to support the hiring of a marketing person. Trade assistance programs that cost share sending small firms to trade shows. On and on. Entrepreneurship, we are told.

Yet all the data we have shows that small business creation in New Brunswick is among the worst in North America. And after 20+ years of trying to stimulate more small business exports, we still have by my calculation something like 90 – 95% of all out of country exports from New Brunswick done by firms with at least 100 employees (and over 50% by one diversfied group).

If someone had just looked at the areas that have witnessed successful entrepreneurial climates that would have seen that attracting large multinational firms plays a key role. They would have seen that universities and research plays a key role. They might have encouraged those kids and their $10k grants to start new businesses – to actually finish university, go to work for a well established firm to get some experience and then go out and start a business.

So to all the guys and gals that go deep, I ask you to come up for air once in a while. Look across the landscape at how your little wedge fits into the big picture.