A bit coin for your thoughts: Economic assessment of the Thrown Speech

For those that missed it, the Daily Business Buzz site had an amusing picture associated with the story of the NB Throne Speech.  It said that Premier Shawn Graham was going to outline his government’s plans for 2012 in the Thrown Speech.   I had a little fun with that pic.

Anyway, I have a few thoughts on the Thrown Speech below for what they are worth.  I read the speech quickly last evening and picked out a few economic development-related sections:


“Your government has been working with industry to design a digital media incentive to help encourage economic growth and job creation in this important sector of the new economy. Details of this new program will be announced as part of the 2012-13 Budget.”


If you search this blog, you will see I make a huge distinction between a digital media tax credit and a film tax credit.  When I made this point after the last budget, I got pilloried by those who support the film industry but I continue to maintain there is a significant difference.


“It needs a pro-active, made-in-New Brunswick economic strategy that will invest in high-growth opportunities and ensure our labour force has the skills to match  industry’s needs so we can have more people working.”


Anyone who knows me will remember I really dislike this term ‘made in New Brunswick’.  I realize it is a political term that plays to a base of voters but I strenuously felt that Bernard Lord and his advisors saw this as a euphemism for “not Frank McKenna’s strategy” and I fundamentally disagreed with this.  New Brunswick needs to be more open than ever before.  We need a “made in the Globe” strategy – we need more investment, more immigration, more researchers – flooding into New Brunswick – all parts of New Brunswick.   So, if this term ‘made-in-New Brunswick’ is politics – fine.  If it means turning even more inward – not fine – but we have a hint below it may be the latter.


“The Department of Business New Brunswick will identify opportunities for growth and develop focused strategies for investment in sectors. These strategies will complement existing strategies in traditional sectors of the economy as well as charting a course for developing emerging, knowledge-based opportunities. This is not to suggest that projects in other sectors will be excluded from consideration, but rather, the focus will be on the potential for growth. This potential will be measured in terms of above-average paying job opportunities, higher-than-average investment in research and development, higher-than-average productivity, and higher-than-average value-added export potential.”


Standard boilerplate stuff but it does start to get us away from the watered down tea variety of economic development we have seen in the past.  We have something like 600 people in this province paid by government to do ‘economic development’ and they mostly provide banking services.  Forcing the system to think about how you grow sectors – the kind of investments that need to be made, the kind of alignment between industry and research, industry and workforce development, industry and investment attraction, etc. – is desperately needed.  If you don’t like ‘picking winners’, then let industry lead the process but ignoring the very real need for us to be competitive in specific industries would be a mistake.


“Working in partnership with the federal government, the other Atlantic provinces and private sector stakeholders, your government will continue to promote the strategic benefits the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor can offer to international business and trading partners. New investment will ensure New Brunswick is poised to grow international air cargo and cruise passenger opportunities.”


How’s about working with Halifax on the Halifax-Detroit trade corridor?   In my experience, most of the ‘cooperation’ around the Atlantic Gateway has been each province jockeying to ensure they get as much of the pie as possible.  Drop that.   Just putting this region back on some serious trade footing – cargo coming in and going out – would be a longer term win even if the actual province on the coast got more of the short term benefit.


“In connection with, among other things, the objective of attracting out-of-province investments through trade missions and increasing the number of immigrants to New Brunswick, your government will make structured, targeted efforts to build on our international operations and networks for the benefit of our province.”


This, my friends, is genuinely new.  We have 600 people involved in economic development – we spend tens of millions of dollars – we have over a dozen different funding agencies and departments (in a province smaller than the city of Winnipeg) but we have nada – no resources – out there in the world where the actual investment, trade, research partnerships, immigrants, etc. is located.  I saw this as the strangest part of the system 20 years ago when I first moved back to New Brunswick.    Our idea of ‘market development’ is sending a few companies over to France for a week.

Even ACOA – the most logical of all agencies to be strengthening an international presence because of its cousin – DFAIT- seems to be pulling back the little work they did in investment attraction and international trade.

Anyway, this is about maturity in our systems and processes.  The big fear in development an international presence is that the people/resources will be far from home/far from oversight.  Well, we have 600 right here – close enough to touch and how’s that oversight thing working out for ya?  Deploy people.  Hire international experts.  Invest in targeted international markets.  Partner with ACOA.  Partner with the other Atl. Provinces.  Build relationships – university to university – industry association to industry association – Chamber to Chamber – diaspora group to diaspora group.  Be smart about it.  I’m not suggesting we move half the spending out of province – at least initially – but like just about every province west of New Brunswick – have a real international presence.

We’ll see.