I have been trying to organize a group of independent consultants and micro-businesses here in Sackville. This is a small town with a population of 5,000, plus the 2,400 students at Mount Allison University. I think that micro-businesses are very important because many of us have options on where we can live, as our clients are distributed, and the Internet has made distant/virtual work much easier. We could attract more "free agents" to our area, without significant infrastructure additions.
Having a number of micro-businesses in a small community provides a diverse and more stable economic base than having larger, single focus firms. The closure of a few micro-businesses would not have the destructive effects as the closure of a single distribution centre, as happened here a few years back. As in nature, diversity in economies helps with adaptation and growth.
My aim over the past six months has been to find out how many people in our area work as non-retail, externally focused knowledge workers. I’ve set up a discussion board, but there hasn’t been too much activity to date. I have a list of about 10 people/companies, but I’m sure that there are more.
I think that as a group we can do a few things:
1. Show that we are significant contributors to the local economy (anywhere from $500K to $2M, is my estimate)
2. Share information on being free agents, and help each other. So far our monthly coffee meetings have generated some good conversations.
3. Look into creating a virtual storefront to share our stories, and perhaps attract others who would like to move to a lovely small town, with heritage homes and a great community to raise kids and enjoy the arts.
4. Lobby the three levels of government. If they are going to continue to play the economic development game, then we should have some input.
I’d love any comments, or ideas on how to grow the Sackville SOHO Society.
Rob Paterson, on PEI, writes about the systemic problems facing island society, in a letter to the Provincial government. "When a business is in real trouble, it is because it has a systemic problem. Trimming here and there will not save it. So it is with us. Prince Edward Island has a structural problem related not to its physical assets but to its human capital."
This letter is worth the read, as Rob’s view is that the root causes of complex problems cannot be addressed by focusing on the symptoms. This is also the view of human performance technologists. Rob’s points are pertinent to one of my projects, where we are making recommendations on how to grow the New Brunswick learning industry. Our key for sustainable development is to find out what is at the root of the problem/challenge. For PEI, Rob says that many children are already challenged before they enter school, because learning and literacy skills are developed prior to age four. All of the interventions to develop literacy and learning skills after this age are treating the symptons, not the root cause of the problem.
This is the same kind of root cause that I am looking for. What are the core components of an industry that will ensure sustainable growth? Is it infrastructure, government policy, access to capital, R&D, marketing & branding, an educated workforce, etc.? My suspicion is that the basics are the most important part. For instance, I moved to Sackville because there is a university, a local hospital, a good elementary school and cheap housing. I have stayed here because of high-speed internet access and two relatively close airports.
Are there basics that need to be addressed in order to grow an industry? In the case of PEI, Rob makes the point that early childhood interventions are critical for a sustainable society. Are there other pieces of the puzzle critical to grow a small industry, or should we focus on the region or province instead, and let industries grow in what we have cultivated? This is one of my current challenges, and I would appreciate any feedback.
Jay Cross of the newly renamed Emergent Learning Forum, discusses social networks and their value for corporate learning. This is the frontier of the Internet, building on the writings of Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point)and others, on how loose social ties are more important than strong ones for learning, as they introduce ideas and people outside of our usual social circle. Social networks, communities of practice, expertise locators, etc. have more potential and utility in this medium than centralized systems such as LCMS. If you have an interest in this field, then join the Forum, it’s free.
This new version of my website launched today. It was built using an open source CMS (content management system) called Drupal. The learning curve was steep for me, until I got over the first hurdle of understanding Drupal’s concepts, especially "books". The great support team at Tantramar Interactive (see bottom of page for a link) here in Sackville, really accelerated the process. This effort took place in spurts over the span of a week.
I would recommend this kind of a website to any small business that uses the web to communicate. Being in control of your content, without too many technical hassles, is wonderful. I’m told that Drupal has the added advantage of being able to survive being "Slash-dotted". This is when thousands of people hit your website all at once. Somehow I doubt that this will happen to me in the near future 😉
This is where I post my thoughts and comments on ideas, events or other writings that are of a professional interest to me. Current areas of interest include social networking applications, like blogs, wikis and the use of RSS feeds, which is one reason why I have this blog; to practise what I preach. I’m also interested in the use of open source software platforms for learning. The development and nurturing of communities of practice online is another area of applied research that interests me.
My previous blog is still available as an archive.