Monday, January 11, 2010
On a brilliant summer day this past summer, driving with my wife on the rather deserted and beautiful Fredericton-to-Saint-John highway, I recall musing about economic development in the province of New Brunswick. That's a topic that's pretty much on everyone's mind out there, given the scarcity of good jobs in the region, and the paradoxical scenario that many native sons and daughters don't want to leave (but are forced to).
The potential of Fredericton, the jewel of a provincial capital located scenically by the river, came up and took up the next 10 kilometres of rambling conversation. The city is small and does have its share of knowledge workers and interesting businesses, but it could easily triple in size with the right critical mass of good jobs. Especially, the kinds of good jobs in software (and other Creative Class endeavors) that could employ recent graduates of the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, etc. Those historic buildings and world class professors should be good for something other than sending kids off to work for engineering companies and law firms in Toronto and Calgary. Yet so many grads are forced to high-tail it out of the province in search of work.
Not all want to. Many Atlantic Canadians have a powerful family attachment and general love of the look and feel of their region. If you can get a good job there (a good job in Atlantic Canada is one that pays $50,000 or more), you can live like a king - or queen. There are abundant recreational opportunities and a relaxed, affordable pace of life that many prefer to big city living. This general line of thinking took up another 15 km of rambly discussion on the empty, excessively wide highway. (If there's one thing they do well in New Brunswick, it's road construction funded by the federal and provincial governments.)
So why wouldn't leading software companies work with various levels of government and the local chambers of commerce to set up shop here, I wondered? Why not Research in Motion? You'd get nearly twice the coding muscle for your dollar. And you could literally secure a loyal customer base of people throughout the entire Atlantic Canada region more likely to buy Blackberries if you created a few hundred jobs here and there. (That's sort of the way it works out there. If you create good jobs, people talk about you. Loyalty to employers is high.)
I'm certainly glad that RIM overheard the conversation we had in the car. Today, they announced the creation of 50 new jobs in Fredericton (city population 50,000 - greater metro area population 125,000). I hope other big software companies consider the benefits of mini clusters of qualified graduates in regional university towns like Fredericton.
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