Have we moved the ball down the field?

A few weeks ago someone posted here that guys like me need to shoulder much of the blame for New Brunswick’s inability to chart a new and successful economic course.   It was in response, I think, to a comment I had made about people in ‘the system’ – government workers, economic developers, etc.

That has been on my mind ever since.  I think that he (or she) is right.  I am a consultant who has spent much of my time (not all but much) in the past 18 years thinking about and working in and around economic development in New Brunswick so I guess I should shoulder my share of the blame.

I think one of the issues is that everybody that is involved in this area seems to be able to decouple their work from the big picture.  I talked to a guy just last week who spent almost 30 years working in economic development in a variety of roles and organizations and I asked him about this.  He told me that he takes great pride in several initiatives that he worked on over the years (and he named them). But the big picture?  Out of my control, he said.  And, in many ways, I have taken the same position.   Out of my control.

Then I think about the public – the voters, the business leaders, the community leaders – and their view on this.  I have had hundreds of conversations over the years where people as high up as senior cabinet ministers and CEOs of large corporations tell me that the province’s economic fate is “out of our control”.   If you have oil, you have economic success.  If you are Toronto, you have economic success.  If you are lucky enough to be in the right geographic location or just happen to be the place where RIM was conceived (or where Microsoft was started for that matter). 

And I have tried to push this notion that our economic destiny is in our control – almost totally in our control but that message beyond superficial recognition is not a widely held view.

In 2003 I decided to do more to raise general public awareness that our economic destiny is in our hands and that we can do things to positively impact our future.  With the right mix of public policy and the support of a few key business and institutional actors we could grow new industries here.  I have written over 3,000 blog posts, hundreds of newspaper and magazine columns, dozens of radio and even a few TV appearances on related subjects but to what end?

The CEO of one of the largest economic development organizations in Atlantic Canada told me back in 2005 or 2006 that I was just wasting my time – that the public would never get it. 

I’m not trying to overstate the potential impact of the occasional column or commentary supplemented by a blog with a few hundred daily readers (ironically with a large percentage from outside NB) but I did think we could start to make a dent in things.

Maybe we do need some younger brains with fresh new ideas.  Maybe I have become part of the scenery.  Who knows?   Or maybe those folks that have been saying all the time that NB has little or no control and just go with the flow were right all along.

Then I think about the journalists in New Brunswick.  I was in a meeting last week where someone was talking about this long time NB journalist as the champion of the people and the slayer of the corporation.  A real defender of the public interest, I was told.  I have been watching that guy for 20 years and just about every story I can remember about economic development issues was negative – standin’ up for the public interest.     Shouldn’t journalists be our window into why the province’s economy has not performed particularly well over the past 15 years or so?  Shouldn’t they be the ones profiling other places like NB that have turned things around?

It seems to me that the folks, and I count myself in this list in a general way, that have some potential to influence change are all in good paying jobs with solid long term stability (government employees, university professors, journalists, other pundits).   Why would they have any reason to push for change – if that change might cause them professional pain? 

But what, to paraphrase that famous Bolshevik, is to be done?  Should we all just quit?  Should I stop writing, move my consulting practice firmly into the private sector and get on with it?  Does past failure indicate future failure? 

I had lunch with another guy who is putting together a really interesting think tank concept and lining up a roster of talent to feed insight on many of the issues that I care about but will it work or will it be another exercise in futility?

Just ruminating on a Saturday night.

No comments allowed on this one.  When I open the kimono a bit the snarky comments are hard to stomach.  Just file this one somewhere.