Commentary: Increase Investment in ‘Fish and Chips’ Businesses

Shawni Beaulieu July 5, 2018

Written by Meaghan Seagrave, posted in the Daily Gleaner on June 28, 2018.

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu checks potato plants sourced from Germany to use in the potato breeding program at AAFC’s Fredericton Research and Development Centre in this file photo. Meaghan Seagrave, executive director of BioNB, writes we need to look at amplifying these industries in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways to build prosperity and create business growth.

As a member of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, BioNB fully supports the We Choose Growth initiative adopted by the chamber and its alliance of organizations. We Choose Growth is a platform focused on creating a climate that attracts new business investment to New Brunswick while allowing established businesses to grow and thrive.

New Brunswick is often lovingly referred to as the fish and chips province of Canada. We have even used the moniker to informally name large scale research projects related to our potato and aquaculture industries. I mention this because New Brunswick is and remains a resource-based economy.

We urgently need to look at amplifying these industries in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways as a means to build prosperity and create business growth that makes the best use of our resource endowment.

Since the 1970’s resource specialization has been closely associated with drivers that have contributed both directly and indirectly to the improvement of per capita economic performance. This holds true for Atlantic Canada and more specifically New Brunswick, as evidenced by the private sector companies in our traditional industries like fisheries, forestry and agriculture that continue to grow and modernize.

Although our regional economy is a net exporter of raw resources, manufactured goods and some services we often make the mistake of assuming that resource extraction and exploitation are all we have to offer. We should be asking ourselves why we are still a net exporter of raw resources instead of a leader in value-added products and more responsible resource utilization?

As a region, Atlantic Canada has traditionally been slow to adopt change, and seldom the one to create change. We need to move away from describing our resource sectors as sunset industries.

Instead, we need to look to them as prospects, to grow our regional endowment with new high-tech opportunity employers. We need to develop, adopt, adapt and integrate advanced technologies, like machine learning and data analytics, within these industries so we can grow New Brunswick’s economy, both rural and urban.

We currently have global market demand for many of our raw natural resources. However, instead of fostering a move to add value to those resources, government has placed a larger focus on developing non-resource related sectors.

We need to look at the opportunities presented by aligning existing expertise with growing technology sectors being created both within the province and abroad. Consider for a moment if we were to leverage the up-and-coming graduates of our academic institutions and welcome them to bring innovation to our traditional industries. They could solve the hurdles related to resource sustainability, management, and development.  The result would surely be improved performance within under-performing export markets like Asia and the European Union where demand for value added products is great.

The resulting labour force would look more like a multi-disciplinary team of skilled experts made up of graduates from scientific disciplines like biology and forestry with the addition of relatively new programs including additive manufacturing and machine learning. Today, the Atlantic region boasts over 20 academic institutions, each providing programs that could support innovation development in our resource economy, we simply need to do a better job of drawing together skilled graduates, from a range of disciplines, with our traditional resource-based industries.

As opportunities present themselves, we need to think about the big picture and ensure we draw linkages back to our labour force, existing expertise and resource endowment. We need to put into play actions that will take advantage of these opportunities.

Consider the recent co-investment in the Oceans Supercluster announced by the federal government earlier this year; this is a great opportunity for New Brunswick, in partnership with the Atlantic region, to demonstrate global leadership in the bioeconomy. We have an opportunity to leverage multi-sector collaboration and exploit home grown expertise and capacity to ensure responsible and sustainable development of our ocean industries.

New Brunswick’s significant genomics expertise in agriculture, forestry and marine serves as another example of opportunity to exploit, this time as it relates to the emerging global cannabis sector. Future product development including medical and pharmaceutical will be reliant on foundational agricultural genetic expertise and an understanding of how technologies like block chain and smart-grid are required to ensure product safety, quality, consistency and traceability in a competitive emerging sector.

By choosing growth, we are choosing to leverage our scientific expertise, traditional industries and private-sector companies. We see the future of our region’s economy focused squarely on the innovation opportunities as they relate to our regional expertise and resource endowment.

The alliance of business organizations that have put forward key priorities to grow NB economy titled, “We Choose Growth” are eager to be part of a solution that brings people and investment to New Brunswick.

We encourage candidates in the next New Brunswick provincial election to look at opportunities related to our resource sectors and the opportunities related to the convergence of sectors to benefit from responsible resource development, improved export performance, labour force development and opportunity for economic growth. Members of the alliance include The Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John Chambers of Commerce, The NB Business Council, Conseil economique and The Atlantic Chamber of Commerce.

Meaghan Seagrave is executive director of BioNB.

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