Last night I attended our town’s Business Retention & Expansion briefing, which reported on findings from a study conducted last year. One of the findings was that the local business priority is to attract industry to the town. Key issues for local businesses were cost of leasing space; municipal taxes; availability of zoned land and land costs. The local economic development agency stated that it would help businesses in the area through training, mentorship and supporting tourism. The town’s strategy will be a “build it and they will come” approach, focusing on a few key sectors and attempting to attract businesses in those areas.
I contrast this with Richard Florida’s presentation in Sackville two weeks ago. First of all, I noted that 64% of total employment in the town is in what Florida calls the creative economy [I added up – Health & Education; Professional & Information; Finance & Insurance; Other services]. According to Florida, “People don’t move to the jobs – the jobs move to the people“. He also said that we are currently going through a fundamental economic transformation and that the key to economic success will be to stoke the creative furnace of each and every citizen. However, no one asked how Sackville could grow its three T’s (technology, talent and tolerance). For example, municipal wi-fi was not seen as a business need; supporting arts & culture is not a business priority and attracting immigrants did not even get discussed. As I walked home, I was thinking that there is a significant difference between asking people their needs and doing what’s needed.
Last night’s discussion was about supporting existing businesses and I likened it to a similar discussion that could have taken place 100 years ago, with concerned business leaders trying to determine how best to support the local carriage factory. Balancing current demands while looking to the future and preparing for a changing world will be a major challenge for all communities in North America. For instance, how will tourism change with a US economy in recession and fossil fuel prices continuing to increase? Would improved broadband access and capability be a better investment than an industrial park? I don’t have the answers, but I know that business as usual is not the solution.