Engaging the private sector

As you know I have been writing and talking more lately about the need for a new partnership with industry when it comes to economic development. I have written about the challenges associated with this in the past but I continue to strengthen in my view that governments are not particularly good at economic development.

I spent a little time this week with an interesting sector group here in Ontario that seems to have real opportunity for growth and a strong willingness for the industry to take the lead – put its own money on the table – to work on collectively growing the sector including attracting new players into the industry.  The government and economic development agency here would play a support role.

I know this is done in limited ways already but I think there is much more opportunity.    We challenge the industry – whatever that industry looks like – to come up with a viable growth path – and build a business plan covering how to get there.  That plan would have elements that impact government – maybe workforce development, R&D, tax incentives, attracting in firms, etc. but would be not just about government.  Industry leaders would take the lead for the development and others would play a support role.

Critically, the industry would put its own money on the table. I don’t have a problem with government providing funding but I think that when you have skin in the game it changes things.  It brings more clarity and a focus on getting a return on the dollars invested.  When it is just the government’s money, we can be more cavalier.

I realize the inherent flaws in this approach but I am not sure what the alternatives are.

There needs to be a clear business case in order for companies to invest in a jurisdiction.    Because we are not talking about local markets (i.e. the local legal services market), there needs to be a clear value proposition for export-oriented sectors to invest here versus hundreds of other options.  I think that value proposition can be more strongly formed with industry, academia and government in the same room – in a serious, committed relationship.

It does take a change of attitude by all players.  Industry has to move from a me-me-me attitude to an us-us-us attitude and government has to take somewhat of a backseat – a supporting role.

1 thought on “Engaging the private sector

  1. A change in attitude is indeed called for. We are conditioned to look to government to somehow assume the leadership role when it comes to business development – and that surely is a paradox. Government helps entrench this pattern by continually stepping up to the plate.
    On the other side, we tend to be suspicious or cynical if ‘business’ seems to be pushing an agenda. We need to develop an enhanced sense of what best serves our interests.

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