This article, written by Larry Shaw, the CEO of Ignite Fredericton and Knowledge Park, was published in the Daily Gleaner on June 28, 2019.
Economic development is a marathon, not a sprint
Economic development is a complex matrix of weaving a business case that demonstrates return on investment and encouraging businesses to make the decision to start, grow, and locate in our region. There is no perfect economic development model, but all initiatives require continuity and consistency to succeed. After all, economic development is more like a marathon, rather than a sprint.
There are a number of variables to consider when it comes to economic development in New Brunswick. Each opportunity requires a dedicated and customized approach. Economic development decisions should never be about rural versus urban area development agendas, nor should it be about subsidized business cases that make poor or marginal business plans appear to be effective. All in all, sound economic development policies and decisions should not be political—they should be financially prudent.
We must play to our strengths by investing in the sectors that we can lead, though that build upon our inherent advantages. We can build competitive advantage by leaning into opportunities that leverage our unique values and maximize our key assets. By doing this, we can access and create opportunities that are well beyond the scope of any region, city, or community.
Overall, Opportunities NB, in partnership with local economic development agencies, like Ignite Fredericton and Community Business Development Corporations, is the right model. ONB's approach of consolidating investments provides focus and maximizes resources.
We have to think beyond our local markets to compete with larger jurisdictions around the world. Our businesses need to grow to become globally competitive. Our entire province is smaller than most of the regions we need to compete in, so it is important to have a provincial voice and authority that can address opportunities requiring the full scope of the province and the individual assets of both rural and urban areas.
Opportunities NB has succeeded in creating focus and progressing the provincial economy. New Brunswick is now in a leadership position in cybersecurity, cannabis, and smart energy. Additional focus is being applied to small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurial start-ups commercializing research from our academic institutions.
Collaboration is the key to ensure economic development success for both rural and urban centres. We can occasionally be critical of initiatives such as the call center focus of the 90's. However, I would suggest that this focus was, in fact, the leading force that generated the IT leadership we now enjoy. That industry represented the first concentrated demand of IT technicians, IT supply chain, start-ups in the IT space, and IT product development. The provincial economic development arm at that time, Business New Brunswick (BNB), carried an agenda that was provincial—not urban or rural, but both. Any strategy should be constantly reviewed and adjusted to reflect the changing environment and market realities. Make those upgrades, alter strategies, adjust goals and objectives, but remember that economic development is a marathon, and Opportunities NB is focused on careers not only for this generation but for many to come.