Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.
- Thomas Edison
STEVEN MEGANNETY/Special to Bullet News
Two recent stories in the media locally have raised some interesting questions about economic development activities in Niagara. In the first, Charles Contehfrom Brock University, spoke about the leadership and vision needed to reinvent the Niagara region’s economy by accepting new attitudes, structures and processes. The other, a story about the Regional Economic Development Corp., reported that 3,600 new manufacturing jobs had been created in the region since 2006.
The implied basis of both stories is that government or institutions should have the lead role in economic development in Niagara.
But, as Einstein correctly stated, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’
Welcome to Niagara.
We hear local development community leaders searching the need for new technologies, business models and ways of doing things. But the market is never wrong; if people don’t buy your stuff, you don’t have a business. If we do not make something that others want to buy for more than it cost us to make it, there will be no economic growth in Niagara.
And I’ve yet to find a government or institution that produces a product or service that I want to pay more for.
We’ve “branded” “transitioned” “reengineered” and more of the other neat new words people who have never met a payroll tell us are necessary to attract new businesses and growth. Local governments can pass yet another a resolution calling for action by someone; hire another consultant and file the report along side the hundreds of others undertaken over the years. The last thing that should be done is to pass another resolution calling on someone else – anyone else – to do something to help create the kind of community and country we want.
The resources are already there in our community and all it needs is the focal point to bring them out. Conteh calls them “systems integraters” and institutional intermediaries” and suggests that these actors are 1] present here and 2] willing to act in new and innovative ways.
Einstein was right, sorry.
Resistance to change forms the structural DNA of bureaucracies. Institutional players are adverse to risk and the complexity of the governing system here in Niagara makes simple changes and organizational efficiencies nearly impossible to implement.
Change can only come about through a systematic change in the way people think about their communities and the way we want to live in the next decade. Leadership has to come from somewhere and those whose livelihoods depend on the standard operational procedures are, in fact, impeding advancement.
Change also means that old ways of doing things and the hardened arteries of localized thinking need to go. There isn’t a Catholic way of buying a pencil or a Welland way of operating a streetlight. A pencil will always be a pencil and a streetlight always a streetlight.
However, here in Niagara, it seems that most of the debate on economic development evolve around institutions and government activities and that, in my opinion, will lead nowhere without dramatic change in the way local government works.
Institutions are rarely innovative and innovation is rarely found in institutions. The only way for a new anything to succeed is for a fundamental change in the way governments of all stripes conduct their affairs.
The lady at the corner store can tell you more about business than a room full of consultants or university professors. There is no new way to create jobs. Businesses grow when people take risks.
Working families cannot tolerate risk, but we entrust our future and that of our kids to government policies then we bemoan the fact that our kids have to move to work because they believe that the future is brighter elsewhere.
Institutional systems integrators and intermediaries are not risk-takers yet we continue to believe that we should listen to their ideas because they are smarter than we are.
Time to change the channel.
Governments everywhere have to come to understand that the only way to build anew is to threaten the old. The old ways of creating jobs or developing the local economy won’t work if we continue to blame – or rely on – others – as in why don’t ‘they’ do something. If, as some politicians claim, the only way to grow the local economy is to fire public sector workers instead of finding incentives to increase the innovative capacity of government, then we are doomed.
If we continue to believe that some other level of government has to act to save this industry or that factory and not understand that the decisions to save those jobs lies with us alone. There is no “provincial tax base.” There is only me and you.
We have to stop saying look what we’ve done and ask instead look what we can do. We have to stop saying look at what my research shows and take the risk to suggest new ways of doing things and pushing for those changes to happen. Sitting on yet another expert panel and presenting a report to government that doesn’t advocate change is insanity.
Until we acknowledge that change requires risk, we are destined to limp along and blame others for our local problems. Eighty per cent of the new businesses that start in Niagara this year are going to fail; get over it.
The only new thing in economic development is that without risk, there can be no reward; and that is older than Moses.
Steven Megannety designed and ran the first public/private economic development fund in Canada and has 30 years of successes and failures creating new business opportunities. He is on the board of directors at the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.