Thoughts on rural economic development

In the past year or so I have been doing more work in smaller communities and rural regions.  I’m in Nova Scotia this week on a project to help a rural area figure out a better way for its economic development efforts.

It seems clear to me that much of this comes down to the quality of the people involved – staff, boards, partners, volunteers, etc.    You have to get the strategy and structure right but, ultimately, it’s people that make things happen.

I watched a video from the Ideas Festival where the guy who headed up the Own the Podium project for the Vancouver Olympics provided a good overview of how that initiative was so successful.  I am impressed how they were able to marshal so many different organizations and personalities with relatively little funding.

Economic development is always about marshaling other related stakeholders – it is rarely about single organizations doing all the work themselves.  There are too many moving parts for it to be fully controlled by one organization.  But the best economic development organizations can bring those moving parts together and have them work in unison.

It’s a bit high level this morning but at some point high level is important.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on rural economic development

  1. You nailed that David… I have a philosophy and it is “Nothing great was ever achieved alone”

    There is always a team that has made it happen, whether you see or hear tell of them they are ALWAYS there

  2. Hit the nail on the head — moreover, the organization pulling all of the stakeholders together needs to be at arms-length from the government to ensure that the political flavor of the day doesn’t auto-populate in the project folders. Consultative cooperation is needed, not direction predicated on the political pressures of the day.

  3. I agree that it takes leadership from the community to drive positive change. We have seen this in Summerside and Moncton.

    However, there are at least three ED areas where more effort, or at least more results, are needed:

    1) Effective Federal Partnerships: Other regions have benefited from significant and focused Federal contributions to stimulate aerospace, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors. We need to partner with the Federal government to prioritize our own economic development initiatives. Let’s move beyond community halls and hockey rinks and focus funds on an industry sector that has the potential for sustained job creation and prosperity.

    2) Exploit IRBs: We do not have to look far to find companies that may be motivated to invest in New Brunswick. Federal defense spending has resulted in top tier companies having contractual commitments to invest in Canada. Let’s target these IRB commitments and present a value proposition to Lockheed, Boeing, General Electric and others with contractual commitments. Let’s think bigger than bolts and nuts for aircraft; how about GE establishing a smart grid research demonstration site or a green energy manufacturing operation in New Brunswick?

    3) Increase SME Exporting: We have over 2500 SMEs in New Brunswick and only 8% of these export. We need to improve this percentage by helping these companies to be more competitive and gain better market share. This can be facilitated by supporting business-led innovation with incentive programs like IRAP that allow small businesses to quickly obtain help to pursue opportunities and solve problems.

    I think our ED efforts could be improved if we had more success with the above.

  4. That’s what seems to be missing in NB-the ‘marshalls’. I’d argue that if it DOESN”T start at the grassroots, then the other parties will not pay attention-that seems to be the evidence. Just as a note about funding, on “” the other day was the governor of Vermont, who is looking at developing universal health care for Vermont-that actually looks even better than Canada’s model. Anyway, he pointed out that his grand total of election spending came to $2500. If you can become governor of a state with a budget like that, then really funding should not be a problem.

  5. @Eric

    “However, there are at least three ED areas where more effort, or at least more results, are needed:…………..I think our ED efforts could be improved if we had more success with the above.”

    Those approaches, in slightly different form, have been raised again and again and again on this blog. It might be more helpful if there were some practical ideas on how to create the political environment that would make those approaches politically feasible. They are not feasible right now because of the focus on the short-term, and the apparent lack of interest in developing stratgies to promote the creation of high-wage jobs.

  6. I don’t thats completely true. While its true that most in rural areas may be thinking short term, they are so used to being on the backburner of ED that what is politically feasible to someone who is used to getting NOTHING, is far different than it would be to, say, a suburb full of public servants.

    So RIGHT NOW you can look at what is happening in forestry. The government is announcing yet another ‘commission’ of some sort, but I think that small woodlot owners would welcome ANY help on the matter. However, ‘we’ at the blogs often have the idea that we are smarter than those guys so what ‘we’ are asking is for the opportunity to ‘tell the country bumpkins the right way to run their business’.

    So for example, the small woodlot association is talking about how to sell their wood. What is lacking is an ‘exporter’ of value added products. So, say some community association got together to help some wood product manufacturers get ideas, funding, and customers.

    In short, my ‘practical idea’ is to contact small woodlot owners and ask them some questions about their industry, find out the problems, or at least broadcast some solutions they’ve been advocating. I don’t think there is any shortage of ‘ideas’, what is in short supply are those marshalls who will put together some kind of organization to link resource suppliers to middlemen and really challenge the government to make legislation that will make success possible. Any takers?

  7. ” really challenge the government ”

    With all respect, you are missing the point. The questions have been asked, the ideas put forward, etc. The various govts have nevertheless failed to act in a positive manner to create, or find ways to stimulate the creation of any, e.g. community forestry or other models that might improve local rural economies.

    What is lacking is a way to create the environment that forces the govt to move in that direction. Most of the pushing has been done by forestry companies in the other direction, and the two new commissions are most likely just ‘time buyers’ established by govt in the hope that the issue will go away.

  8. That’s exactly my point Richard. What I am saying is to JOIN with the small woodlot owners to help do some pushing. What you are saying is MOSTLY true, but its not completely pessimistic. Bernard Lord adopted SOME of the policies push by other interests. It’s not like the leaseholders get EVERYTHING they want, although they certainly get most. However, small woodlot owners DO engage in political lobbying, so what I am saying is that they’d welcome ANY help.

    The ONLY way to ‘force’ a government to do anything, well, ok, there are three ways, but lobbying is obviously the main step. However, most groups in NB tend to act alone, while companies speak as one.

    In particular, they want to get rid of the change brought in by Frank McKenna that lets them bypass private woodlot owners to access public land. This has hurt private landowners, and the public forests. They ARE lobbying, but like the NBPower deal, we know that strength comes from numbers.

    That’s, of course, just one example, but a pretty big one for rural people. The government brags that it has 100% high speed internet coverage, yet we know from David that internet usage in NB is amongst the lowest, and I’d bet a good part of that is the high cost of high speed. Like NB within Canada, you have to look at the places lagging behind and put MORE services onto them to get them up to speed.

  9. I haven’t posted any comments here for a long time but this is a topic I am sensitive to. I will only ask two questions:
    1) In terms of overall economic development, what is the value proposition of small rural communities?
    2) What is their competitive advantage in today’s world?
    If ANYONE is able to answer satisfactorily these two questions, we have done half of the work.

  10. The theme of the commentary seems to be that cooperation is needed at several levels to move rural economic development from its current state towards the ideal state. If small communities were to form a group to lobby and draw stakeholders together for policy and opportunity development it would be a start(if such a group exists, I haven’t heard of it…which doesn’t mean much). But someone has to step up and do it…any takers?

  11. I feel that until we put a focus on community building, rural economic development will be discussed by certain few. We need organizational structures that work and get what’s foremost of importance. Rural areas have been hollowed out on the whole. In human capital, and in collaborative capacity. NB community capacity is undermined by provincial statue and policy.
    If there were to be a departure from business focus, a whole new ball game opens up. It’s time for fresh thinking like community economic development and asset/needs based approaches to mobilization as apposed to outcome oriented strategies.
    Compare even the NB an NS climates in terms of where the support is. Where is the communities lobby? That’s what I’d like to know. It sure ain’t the UNBM

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