Local economic development matters now more than ever

Just a quick follow up on my comments with Terry Seguin on CBC this morning.  I respect Minister Valcourt but his view of the Enterprise agencies seemed to be very unidimensional.  Maybe this is based on his experience with rural RDAs in Atlantic Canada.  He suggested in his comments that all the agencies did was connect entrepreneurs with government funding programs and that getting rid of them would reduce duplication and bring  ‘clients’ closer to the programs.

It’s a bit sad that Enterprise agencies are viewed as only the tellers for government funding programs.  I suspect that when Bud Bird spearheaded the GFEDC back in the 1990s (the precursor to Enterprise Fredericton) he never envisioned it as an organization that would be only about connecting SMEs to government funding.  I guess the irony is that federal and provincial funding of the Enterprise agencies was given so they would act as the teller.

But as I have said repeatedly here and elsewhere, local economic development agencies are advocates for development in their region.  They work on sector development, they work with key stakeholders such as government and universities to make the area attractive for investment and talent.  They celebrate success and vigorously promote their communities.

There is virtually no way the provincial government can take on that role.  You can’t advocate into the mirror.

The other thing is that without a local economic develpment agency, it is harder to engage the private sector.  I know there will be those that disagree with me on this but the RDA structure – with a private sector-led board – should be a better vehicle for private sector engagement.

As I pointed out in my interview the Greater Halifax Partnership attracts more than a million dollars a year in private sector funding and Enterprise Greater Moncton around $230,000.  This is above and beyond the hundreds and thousands of hours’ worth of volunteer time by business and community leaders.

Let’s not lose that in the name of efficiency.  If Minister Valcourt doesn’t want local agencies doing small business counselling and government program matching, fair enough, but that should only be one small part of what an effective regional develompent agency does.


6 thoughts on “Local economic development matters now more than ever

  1. Interesting, we decry duplication of services and the amount of money spent on the several different ED agencies, then when government makes changes, we complain.

    ED changes are in development with changes in both Federal and Provincial Departments, to reduce government expenses. I cannot believe the reaction, but sadly not surprised.

  2. We just have a different view of things. I am among those who actually catalogued all the duplication so there is no one more knowledgeable of this issue but cutting local economic development is like cutting off an overweight person’s leg to reduce weight. Sure, you reduce weight but at what cost? There is streamlining to be done – for sure – and that includes at the local level but I think when we take away the local voice in economic development we are making a mistake.

    But we can agree to disagree amicably.

  3. I agree with the point that local economic development is critically important, David. However, the Enterprise Network funding model would make it difficult for the smaller regions Enterprise office to survive in any meaningful way.

    Many Municipalities are hiring their own ED people, which I believe you support. Or maybe the new Regional Commissions will undertake this file. In my opinion that is the logical place, with the planning departments, etc,etc….

  4. If the CBC comments are any indication, your view is very much in the minority. I don’t know much about it, but I laughed out loud when Brad Woodside’s only comment printed on the announcement of axing Enterprise Fredericton, with its ten staff and its agenda of ‘increasing investment’ was “we need jobs”. So, you need jobs, but aren’t willing to have anybody try to get them.

    To be fair, Enterprise Fredericton also included Oromocto and New Maryland, so Fredericton probably figured they don’t get tax dollars from THEM, so why try to help them get business? But also to be fair, I read one of their reports and it was VERY clear that Fredericton was the ONLY winner in that relationship. The other two actually saw business go down.

    And at least in Fredericton the group was the sole shareholder in the city’s ‘knowledge park’, which is not insignificant. Not sure of their role, but there are a fair number of companies in there, so we can’t say that they don’t do anything. But BOTH scenario’s don’t bode well. IF they don’t accomplish much and are worth axing, then how do you justify the cities hiring ‘their own’ investment people? Are people REALLY dumb enough to believe that an organization will be ‘better’ just because it works for a different level of government?

    But if not, that leaves NOBODY manning the phone. I know people love to talk about how government is no good at anything-all while they drive the roads, use their phones (which was subsidized for years until it became profitable), get the kids to school and use the hospitals, but the reality is that NO company sets up without work. It’s like that Simpsons gag for “Flim Springfield”- “Hey, they don’t need a flashy ad or correct spelling….so they MUST be great”. What makes it funny on the Simpsons is that it NEVER happens that way in the real world.

  5. Perhaps someone could explain to me how Minister Valcourt sees the Enterprise Agencies as “another layer of bureaucracy” as he said in his announcement when cutting the funds. The exact opposite is the case, since Enterprise Agencies help new businesses prepare for the bureaucracy, by helping develop their business plans and financial positions. Then along comes Minister Robichaud with his funding cut announcement and says that his new level of bureaucracy developed within his Economic Development Department will serve the business community more effectively than Enterprise can ! Is this the old “right hand dont know what the left hand is doing” scenario?? I have yet to see ANY govt Dept do things more efficiently than the Private Sector and volunteers !

  6. “Perhaps someone could explain to me how Minister Valcourt sees the Enterprise Agencies as “another layer of bureaucracy” ”

    Sure, I can do that for you. Valcourt is a proud veteran of the corrupt Mulroney regime. He knows how to judiciously use development funds to help in election efforts, and that has been ACOA’s primary role for years. Local ED outfits, like the Enterprise agencies, must just be getting in the way. Perhaps they have questioned his decisions.

    I am not quite sure why, given the behviour of provincial and federal politicians, we expect anything different. ED has largely been seen as an electoral aide, not as actual, you know, development work. Until we replace our politicians with people who do take that file seriously things won’t change. And of course we won’t be replacing those polticians until we change the way look at ED.

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