– By Krista Ross
Having an overarching economic development organization in the province like ONB provides the benefit of coordination of economic development activities at a local level. Without an entity like ONB, it is likely that communities would default to competing with each for opportunities because no one would be coordinating the efforts – like we used to do in the bad old days. New Brunswick needs to have a coordinated provincial strategy that is – yes – tailored to local regions and builds on the strengths of local communities, and a central body can accomplish this by leveraging the skills of individuals and the strengths and assets of the community or region.
A good Fredericton-centric example of the value of a provincial layer of economic development is the burgeoning cyber security industry. Fredericton’s knowledge economy has been flourishing for quite some time – driven by our post-secondary institutions that are building on decades of investments and decisions by all three levels of government, private investors and other stakeholders and there are examples of this around the province. There are two important points here. First, ONB has played an instrumental role in developing the cyber security sector in Fredericton and we would not be in the position we are today without them. Second, without their involvement and their ability to strategize provincially, can you guess how many communities in NB would be competing to get involved in cyber security? “All of them” may be a stretch, but not by much. And where would that lead? At best, a diluted and piecemeal approach. A centralized agency can be more efficient with funds – piecemealing $40M around the province to an undefined number of communities won’t go nearly as far – diminishing leverage when it’s spread so thin.
However, in real terms, we must recognize that ONB’s $40 million budget is a lot of money so it’s important that they are transparent and accountable and that New Brunswickers get value for those dollars and understand the value they we are getting. The chamber often talks about the government investing strategically instead of spending politically. What separates a government ‘spend’ from an ‘investment’ is the existence of a legitimate ROI – the return on investment. ONB is delivering ROI – maybe it’s not perfect but they are returning $1.66 in personal income taxes (based on jobs created) back to NBers for every $1.00 invested – not to mention the other returns associated with growth.
If a concern is lack of results, perhaps the question we should be asking, or the results we should be expecting could be realized through understanding ONB’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – perhaps this is where stakeholders can even better engage with ONB to help develop, or understand and be well informed about the current KPI’s to ensure our tax dollars are being invested in the best way possible and that the message is getting out to all taxpayers.
ONB has been evolving since its creation based on the needs of the province. And it will continue to evolve – it can never be perfect, but it would be a mistake to start from scratch once again. There is real value in continuity; there is real value in coordination and there is real value in what ONB delivers. Economic development is the cure, not the illness.