Sustainable Local Economies

I believe in local economic sustainablity even in a flattened world where your competition may be in Asia. I think that you can have both – locally sustainable economies that are also connected to global networks of partners and customers. That’s why I’m involved with the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, which is developing a regional wildlife emergency response network to ensure good science-based common standards and practices. I’m also a member and supporter of our local Green energy investment cooperative, Renew Co-op.

At the same time, my clients are all across Canada and my long-term strategy is to grow my network outside the country. Most of my work is via the Internet so that my travel/energy footprint is relatively small. All of my revenue comes from outside of the region, so I would say that I add to the local economy, where I purchase most of my goods.

From the Dominion, I just found out that we have a local flour mill in western New Brunswick, one more piece of the economic sustainablity puzzle:

The organic grains and cereals produced by Speerville Flour Mill in Speerville New Brunswick are not available outside the Maritimes. Although having more people in British Columbia or Ontario eating food produced in Atlantic Canada might increase Speerville’s profit margin, Grant does not see it a choice the Mill can justify.

The average meal travels 1500 miles from field to table. Almost one third of transport trucks on Canada’s highways are carrying food. Less than one per cent of the Atlantic region’s available cereals and flour are actually produced in the region.

Having a diverse local economy to meet our basic needs, while exporting value-added goods and services seems to be a rational, long-term economic strategy. Any economists have anything to add?

8 Responses to “Sustainable Local Economies”

  1. Daniel Lemire

    As I recall, you are one of the few survivors of the eLearning fashion in New Brunswick. You, as an individual, may be competitive in your particular market… but I would not extend this to everyone.

    We are still missing a few technological pieces. While IM is nice, it is not yet the equivalent of “let’s go for lunch”.

    The truth is that you can’t cater to your network as well, from a distance, as you can when you are “right there”. In a competitive market, you’ll loose every time. You need an adge, like lower costs or better quality or whatever.

    Clearly, you have some of these. I’m sure you are doing great… but applying this to the NB population at large? Nah.

    I just don’t think New Brunswick has those, in general. New Brunswick is not sufficiently less expensive. It is actually a moderately expensive place to live in.

    Better quality? Not to seem offensive, but as a whole, New Brunswick doesn’t shine by the quality of its services and products (naturally, I’m not including you). New Brunswick is the kind of place where, if you call for a repairman, it will take 3 weeks for him to come. Services tend to be slower than in a big city in Canada. What about the people? Well, it is not a secret that New Brunswick looses out its smartest people to Toronto and Vancouver every year that passes…

    Also, culturally, the maritimes are extremely conservative. It will never be a hotbed for innovation. New Brunswick is the kind of place where a newcomer will take 1 or 2 generations before fitting in. Finding a doctor takes months. You just can’t quickly transplant smart people in New Brunswick the way you can in Toronto, say.

    I think there will be more room for independent consultants like yourself in the future, as technology grows better… and we eventually get something nearly as good as the “let’s go to lunch” experience. But it will not save places like New Brunswick, only a select few will benefit from it.

    (Disclaimer: this is not meant to be a criticism of New Brunswick. To some extend, but on a different scale, it applies to where I live too!)

    Reply
  2. Harold

    Thanks for the comments, Daniel. Yes, the value of being close to business centres and the lack of an identifiable edge in NB are real disadvantages. Given that we don’t have a clear economic edge, wouldn’t it be better if our economy was sustainable on its own for our basic needs? You may be correct that NB (NS, PEI, NL) doesn’t have the critical mass to develop a robust knowledge economy that is able to be a net exporter of knowledge services.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Lemire

    I’m not an economist.

    I’m not sure things have to get bad in New Brunswick, and to be entirely fair with you, it is quite possible that I would go back to live there one day.

    Critical mass can be built over time if the conditions are right. Silicon Valley didn’t happen overnight. It also wasn’t the result of a 5 year government program.

    You need to take risks. What I don’t see in New Brunswick is a culture of risk-takers (as usual, I’m not including you). Mostly, we have government workers, the military, people working for large corporations as permanent staff… and the rest of the crowd is pretty silent.

    You have people who have owned their land for 3 generations. They have traditions. I lived nearby Oromocto. I don’t think there is a more boring city on the planet! Everything is square, neat and clean. You won’t see innovation coming out of there!

    Compare this with China where most people had nothing 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Where people have felt that they had nothing to loose by risking it all…

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  4. Harold

    I used to live in Oromocto too. CFB Gagetown was my last posting in the military. The town is unique in that it was created by the military when the adjoining training area was purchased in the late 1950’s. Most of Oromocto was centrally planned, hence the wide boulevards and open spaces and no real downtown core.

    This kind of central planning, or five year plan, usually doesn’t stand the test of time. This week, I mentioned (http://jarche.com/?p=732) that the Irish IT miracle was a result of efforts to improve general education in the 1960’s. Broad-based, long-term economic initiatives seem to be more successful, but the government in power won’t directly reap the rewards, so these initiatives are few and far between.

    I’m not sure how we can develop a generation of risk-takers. Many people here still talk poorly of Malcolm Bricklin, and New Brunswick’s only foray into the automotive industry.

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  5. Peter Adamson

    When I was obliged to study the rudiments of Economics long ago I was struck by the fact that the theories all seemed to start from the notion that trade in LUXURY goods was beneficial for all concerned. With 40 years hindsight it seems to me that “Economics” assume that local economies were always self sustainable. I do not think that at all today.

    I confess that I have long waited to see some take up of Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” ideas by the mainstream. Although his ideas are still advocated at places like http://www.smallisbeautiful.org/ I do not see much evidence of the profound changes that his ideas suggest in the local economies in the UK and Australia with which I am in familiar. In both those economies food is transported huge distances to satisfy ignorant/innocent consumer whim. Perhaps we may yet be “blessed” with “runaway energy costs” that might finally drive home the need for the mainstream to recognise the need for local economies to be sustainable in the long term. Local agriculture, manufacturing and service industries would all benefit as would the quality of local life. With less pressure sucking talent from local economies we might even see a drop in global economic migration. A phenomina which may yet prove the scourge of the 21st Century.

    In my opinion the only real need for a Global Economy is that we should have the free exchange of ideas. We have that here. I remain optimistic that global communication with web 2.0 tools at low costs seems possible for all. May we never loose it.

    Reply
  6. Dave F.

    You can’t sustain everything… N.B.’s production of food isn’t high after, I’d guess, October (except rutabagas, perhaps), and its production of bananas or citrus fruit isn’t high any time.

    Knowledge work, and even some other kinds of work, aren’t quite as tied to the physical place, though I do think you add quite a bit with some recurring face-to-face contact.

    Keep in mind the distinction between a feature and a benefit. Neither N.B. nor Maryland is likely to manufacture a car (or a computer) at a price anyone’s willing to pay. On the other hand, enough people may willing pay a price for products or services such that people can earn a living providing them. Economies of scale (heavily correlated with price) are nearly relentless, so the local coffee shop struggles against Starbucks or Tim Horton’s.

    I would disagree with the notion of China on the whole as evidence of risk-taking. A centrally-managed totalitarian state paying at lip service to Marxism, enabling rampant corruption, counting on a centuries-old habit of authoritarian rule, doesn’t seem to fit under openness or opportunity.

    Reply

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