Chickens, eggs and economic development

This kind of thing in my opinion is emblematic of what is wrong with economic development in New Brunswick. This is a CBC story from a couple of days ago:

Seven months after the creation of a federal fund directed at single-industry towns suffering from economic downturns, forestry communities in New Brunswick are questioning when they will see any of the money. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the $1-billion national aid package in January. New Brunswick is receiving $30 million of the money over the next three years to help communities transition after the downturn that impacted the province’s forestry sector. Approximately $8 million of the money has already been allocated to the Dalhousie area, which is the riding of Natural Resources Minister Donald Arseneault. Dalhousie was hard hit when AbitibiBowater Inc. closed its mill in the small coastal community and 330 people lost their jobs. The rest of the money has not yet been allocated.

It’s what I have talked about at length before. Economic development should not be about getting $30 million from the Feds and the blowing through it on whatever projects cpme along in the community. In fact, when these types of programs come along, people dust off old non-viable business plans and hope they can get a big chunk of cheese to prime the pump. They can take advantage of a mill closure to get funding for a bad business model.

In my opinion, it should be the opposite. Economic development official should be prowling around looking for really good projects for the community (both ED supporting infrastructure and potential new business investments). They should have a long term plan and be executing that plan. If they are able to attract a high value project that will create hundreds of good paying jobs in the community then they should have access to various programs (tax abatements, training grants, etc.) just like 95% of communities in Canada and the United Sates.

But just allocating $30 million and then finding ways to spend it could – and I say could – lead to funding bad projects – or short term projects – or trying to replace forestry with tourism – to show the community that ‘something’ ‘anything’ is being done.

If Miramichi officials got KIA interested, I would certainly hope they wouldn’t be restrained by some small funding program. If someone wants to make a billion dollar investment in the community, you make it work.