Enterprise Agencies should be regional in focus

I might get in trouble with my comments on this one but here goes anyway.

If you read this blog with regularity you will know that I believe the economic development buck stops in the local community. I think abdicating the role of economic development to provincial or federal governments is a huge mistake. There are many cases where the lack of strong local economic development infrastructure has led to a community seriously underperforming its peers.

But I don’t agree with that Saint John councillor that wants Enterprise Saint John to have economic developers assigned to specific neighbourhoods within the City of Saint John.

The Enterprise Agencies were set up as regional agencies. There are dominant municipalities and their expectations need to be reflected in the organization’s efforts but it would be a mistake for ESJ or any other urban agency to be haggling with Walmart or McDonalds about where they locate within a city limits. That function needs to be inside City Hall where the politics of that are better arbitrated.

Saint John City Hall underfunds economic development. By any measure. At a time when the city has unprecedented opportunity in front of it. This is a time for the City to re-establish itself as a dominant economic engine for New Brunswick the way it has been for over 200 years.

Neighbourhood level economic development is important and needs to be part of City Hall’s efforts. But don’t push politically-based Ward concerns out to a regional economic development agency.

ESJ should assist where it can providing information, support, technical expertise, etc. but should not be in the business of influencing firms on where they should locate within the city limits. Only on rare occassions would I recommend this posture for a regional ED agency.

I am not glossing over the challenges faced by specific SJ neighbourhoods. I spend a lot of time in the Port City and realize the validity of these concerns. I am just objecting to some members of Council trying to deflect responsibility for addressing these concerns out to a regional agency not mandated or even structured to do so.