Dunce cap or thinking cap?

I’m back from a few days in the nation’s capital.   On the way back I got trapped in a 4×4 foot elevator with six other people for over 30 minutes.  No air conditioning and no indication from the outside when we were going to get rescued (vague assurances).  When I lean libertarian I’ll remember that moment.  Not a bad idea to have elevator inspections after all.

Anyway, just a few follow up comments on my series last week of potential growth sectors for New Brunswick: morphing from call centre to social media hub, legal outsourcing, medical tourism/health care as economic development, shale gas and large scale industrial fabrication.

The broader context for these articles and for my other writings is the ongoing debate of the role of government in the area of economic development.    I have speculated that many business people see the main role for government as a source of capital (loans, grants, etc.).  I started to think this over a decade ago when a former BNB employee told me that “companies wouldn’t even let us in the door if we weren’t bringing the cheque book”.   A number of conversations in recent weeks have confirmed my suspicions around this.

But that is intellectually lazy.  It’s easy for government to take taxpayer money and dole it out to companies.  It’s far harder to think about a broader set of policies and alignment wtihin government around sectors of the economy that show potential for growth. 

Take the example of the migration from call centre to social media hub.  On its face, it makes some sense.  We already have more people working in the customer contact business than any other province in Canada (adjusted for labour market size) – with thousands of New Brunswickers interacting with millions of people across North America and beyond.    As customer interaction migrates to Web 2.0, why can’t New Brunswick migrate too?

But these things rarely just happen spontaneously.  There is almost some intelligent designer or industry group or some coordination.  For example, the social media customer interaction model is quite different from the telephone-based one.   For one thing, there is far more writing involved.  Maybe the community college should develop diploma programs in junior copy writing, social media interaction and managing social media.  Maybe our university computer programming departements should haves specializations in social media.  Maybe our R&D focus should be on social media.  Maybe the government should become a model user of social media.  Maybe we should be a test bed for innovation in social media.

The access to capital issue is one small piece of an effective economic development model.  I just heard a podcast about Israel’s new growth sector strategy and it is setting up VC pools to provide capital but its startegy is far broader and involves alignment with education, R&D, intercompany linkages, external promotion, etc.

I think we need to move our thinking away from the pot of money view of economic development.

2 thoughts on “Dunce cap or thinking cap?

  1. You make a good observation, any system is made up of many parts, it is a fundamental law, nothing happens in isolation and everything that does occur has a cascading affect. It is an important message, but a tough sell unfortunately!

  2. Business New Brunswick has a strategic sector or cluster policy – but who knows about it, and what do they report themselves? If we’re going to have a focus then it needs to be one that everyone is involved with devising and delivering, and we need to know how we’re doing.

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