Regular readers will know that I've questioned the Alward government for focussing on the deficit at the expense of a real jobs agenda. Yes, the fiscal balance needs to change, but if we are going to withdraw public money from the economy during a global slowdown, we had better have some solid plans on economic development.
The government department that quarterbacks this strategy needs to be part of that plan. So far, the promise of more private sector expertise at InvestNB has not really changed how the department operates. Judging by the flow of press releases in the Minister's name, it's the same game plan with an advisory board in place.
At a recent leadership candidates' forum I was asked about BNB reform. Here are some ideas I offered...
(1) Re-think staff structure. Good businesses guide employees through incentives, not micromanagement. Business New Brunswick should reflect this -- each unit should have measurable goals and targets, with staff paid based on results, with incentive pay for bringing companies and jobs into the province.
(2) Build government's skill-set. Too often, economic development teams hire those with experience in government agencies, affirming the culture of subsidies and saving existing businesses. Priority should be placed on bringing in private sector talent skilled in sales and global contacts, and we should use headhunting agencies where appropriate.
(3) Go after the markets with emerging middle classes. The fact we have no emerging market strategy to go after the 500 million new middle class consumers in China, India and Russia...let alone one for the African nations like Ghana and Rwanda who had double-digit economic growth rates, shows how locked BNB has been in subsidizing what we have. For emerging markets, there needs to be a clear strategy to establish business contacts with countries that have growing economies, like China and India, with staff to support them. For instance, the lack of a China strategy, and staff with language skills and connections to that market, needs to be remedied.
(4) End preferential treatment of industries. We have rigid rules about what sectors we will, and won’t support, which sounds like government picking winners and losers to me. Let's use community plans and strengths to develop cluster strategies that offer effective job creation tools with clear measurement of results and greater focus on mentorship and angel investor help to foster new enterprises and jobs rather than bailouts.
(5) Create an Entrepreneurship Desk to deal with the soft barriers to new business. Too often, new businesspeople from the Maritime Provinces lack the mentorship and help they need in finding needed angel investors, or capital, or just advice. We need to encourage private sector leaders to design networks across the province, country, and world that erase the competitive disadvantages faced by rural communities in New Brunswick.
(6) Ensure every department understands its job creation mission. InvestNB's private sector expertise should be used to have a jobs audit of every department, maximizing their role in the economy. For example, the National Governors' Association in the U.S. has a Rural Arts-based Economic Development manual, but our Culture department doesn't have a desk for those issues. The Education Department hasn’t gotten strategic advice from BNB in leveraging their foreign schools to open markets. Reinventing government for a jobs-based mission should be a government-wide initiative led by BNB.
These are just a few steps that can be taken to reform Business New Brunswick, and make it an effective agency to foster entrepreneurship, open new markets, and especially create jobs.