Complaining about economic development: 7 themes

Just about every time there is a new jobs announcement (there were two this week related to IT companies expanding in New Brunswick), I’ll either get disgruntled emails, have cranky conversations or read about why this is a bad thing in the newspapers/media.

The common complaints can be grouped into categories:

Environmental concerns:  This mostly doesn’t relate to IT firms but you may be surprised to find out that I have had people vigorously complain about repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel, etc. associated with the sweat shop, back office jobs in New Brunswick.  I assume folks differentiate between ‘call centre’ and ‘IT’ jobs although they both require a vast amount of typing and clicking.  It is true that the number of persons afflicted with these types of injuries has risen significantly in the past 20 years (I talked with someone at the WorkSafe NB a few years ago).

All I can say is that for all economic development opportunities – oil and gas, aquaculture, wind farms, forestry, agriculture and urban jobs – we need to have an understanding of the real risks to our physical environment and be prepared to say no if those risks are too high as judged by experts without an agenda – one way or the other.  The only economic development for New Brunswick with no environmental risk would be to turn the whole province into one giant national park.

NIMBY-ism:  This is a growing concern as more people are losing the link between the strength of the economy around them and the expectations they have related to public services, infrastructure and the social safety net.  Efforts to foster economic development in both urban and rural environments will increasingly face opposition that may be dressed up as something else but when you break it down it translates into people not wanting to be inconvenienced or bothered in some way.  Again, if there is weakening sense of connection between the wind farm, fish farm, logging operation, mine, etc. and local livelihoods, this will become even more pronounced.

Stealing local markets:  This is a common one. How dare you give taxpayer money to a firm that is going to compete with me for clients in New Brunswick?  The government folks will say this is minimal but it does happen.  I agree that we need to be principally focused on economic development projects that increase the size of the economic pie (i.e. new money coming into New Brunswick) rather than government picking winners and losers – to use that horrible phrase – that are competing for local markets.   However, it is complicated somewhat as we know that entrepreneurs usually build up a local market before expanding into national or international markets.  If they don’t receive the funding – by whatever source – locally they will never be able to grow large enough to export.

Raiding workers:  This is a common one – particularly in IT.  We are bringing in companies that will raid my workers.  They will pay $5,000 or $10,000 more a year and I’ll either have to raise my wages or lose my workers.

Raising costs for everyone: I have heard this one more in the past few years.  It’s getting more expensive to run a business because of the ‘success’ in a place like Moncton.

Using government money that should be given to local firms:  This is a classic – heard it twice this week – there is not much to say here except that 95 percent of firms that receive government grants or loans are locally based firms.  The government prefers to support local companies – the owners/bosses are voters and many are politically active – but they do support national or international firm expansion here – as a second choice – because they realize New Brunswick needs investment and jobs and if they are not bubbling up from the local entrepreneurs they will make a limited attempt to bring it in.

General dislike of big firms:  This was used with the Oxford Foods project in the Peninsula but it is a fairly wide view that government should be supporting the little guy who ‘needs the money’ rather than the big, nasty multinationals.   I have written on this extensively and all I can say is that we need export-based economic activity and that is always biased towards the big firms with established markets.  Again, like mentioned above, if small firms have export potential, there are government bureaucrats lined up to cut cheques.


The bottom line?  There are lots of reasons to disapprove of government or community-led economic development efforts.  From just wanting to be left alone to genuine environmental concerns.  But there is one reason to approve.  New Brunswick needs a stronger economic base.  It has been shedding its people at an alarming rate – increasing in recent years.  It’s ability to fund public services and infrastructure is increasingly under stress.  Even the province’s stronger local economies will suffer if our GDP continues to be stagnant.

Demographic and other factors are fraying the link between local economic strength and personal well being.

I have one question.  Do you want to leave your community and province worse off than previous generations?