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JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick

How can we save the economy in northeastern New Brunswick?

Northern Vision North Symposium 2020 Findings

French version

By Sarah McRae

The Northern Vision Nord 2020 Symposium, which took place on March 13, 2020 at the Danny's Inn Convention Center, in Beresford, allowed regional stakeholders to meet, exchange views and brainstorm ideas in order to establish measures that could have a positive impact on the economy of northern New Brunswick. Bringing together a coalition of stakeholders from various sectors, the activity's primary goal was to draw up a list of recommendations that could influence future policy development and revitalize the region's economy.

Since the middle of the 20th century, New Brunswick's rich natural resources and its strong industrial presence have been its economic engine. The northeast region, made up of the counties of Restigouche, Gloucester and Northumberland, has particularly relied on a strong manufacturing sector and on the extraction and processing of natural resources to stimulate its economy. However, in recent years, these sectors are struggling. As proof: the closure, in 2013, of Brunswick Mine activities in Bathurst due to the exhaustion of underground deposits and, more recently, in November 2019, the closure of the Glencore smelter, which resulted in the loss of 420 jobs in Belledune, a small village of 1,400 inhabitants. Compared to the province as a whole,the northeast region is also facing pressing demographic challenges and labor shortages. As the region's younger labor force continues to migrate to other regions in search of work, the median age of the population of northern New Brunswick continues to increase.

The Symposium was intended as a first step towards the creation of a regional action plan. There were represented stakeholders from the public and private sectors from different fields, sectors and interests, including government, economic development agencies, business incubators and accelerators, organizations and industries in the natural resources sector, the manufacturing sector and many others.

The activity was structured according to five main themes:

Participants presented their vision of what northern New Brunswick could look like in the medium to long term, provided the right policy measures are adopted. These views were at times divergent - while many stakeholders sought to build on existing strengths such as manufacturing and natural resource extraction / processing, in particular, others preferred to focus on diversifying the economy into creating new forces in sectors like technology and tourism.

Analysis of the trends that emerged in responses to questions posed to individuals and groups that day identified three policy areas or themes that correspond to the most important sets of recommendations proposed by the Symposium participants. , to know:

  • Theme 1 - Economic Zone of Northern New Brunswick
  • Theme 2 - The "northern tiger": a new image for northern New Brunswick
  • Theme 3 - Investments in transport and education infrastructure

Theme 1: Economic Zone of Northern New Brunswick

Several recommendations made during the small-group workshops could be used, collectively, to create a special economic zone in northern New Brunswick focused on the development of incentives and support measures for the development of the sector. manufacturing and research and development in the region, which would allow the creation and export of value-added products.

Recommendations made included fiscal policies on taxes and tariffs that could attract investment and stimulate local industries. Another popular proposal was for the establishment of a free zone (sometimes called a "free trade zone"), a designated area within a country where foreign companies can import materials, manufacture goods and export. products without being limited by the usual rules and taxes. These areas are often built around important entry points such as airports or shipping ports, making the Port of Belledune a likely candidate. The proposal for a “tax-free margin” goes in the same direction. Tax-free margins are designated areas where particular businesses can benefit from particular tax incentives.Margins can be used in conjunction with “business-friendly zones”, specific regions where the government encourages business growth by providing tax relief and financial concessions.

Theme 2: The "northern tiger": a new image for northern New Brunswick

The groups noted the need for greater regional collaboration and a shared vision to create a stronger future for the economy of northern New Brunswick. This could take the form of more partnerships between various stakeholder groups, including business and various levels of government. This collaboration could be reduced to the exchange of ideas and best practices, or could involve the establishment of common strategic objectives to allow more resources to be invested in this direction. One recommendation went in the direction of a communications plan to "tell the story of the north" to attract investment and ensure that the region remains at the forefront for the government.

Theme 3: Investments in transport and education infrastructure

To create sustainable economic growth in the north, Symposium participants identified education and transportation infrastructure as key areas for investment.

Some suggested that more concerted efforts be made to promote entrepreneurship in the region, especially through education and services targeting young people. One of the objectives of these efforts would be to convince young people to settle in the region and avoid further out-migration, as well as to encourage the training of first generation entrepreneurs. This would likely include promoting programs already in place, such as education and training opportunities, as well as supports for new businesses. In the longer term, efforts would focus on promoting entrepreneurship through the modification of educational programs and the creation of more educational and training opportunities in the region.

Another theme cited was the strengthening of trade capacities through the improvement of existing infrastructure and the creation of an integrated transport strategy that would include air, road, sea and rail transport. These investments would aim to improve the accessibility of the region and make it more attractive to industries by removing barriers or restrictions to the transport of goods.

Next steps

The sessions described in this report are a first step towards achieving the goal of sustainable regional economic growth in the north. Further consultations with local business leaders and industry representatives are needed, after which the next step will be to produce tangible action plans to present to government. The organizers of the Symposium (members of the Transitional Adaptation Committee, chaired by Denis Caron of the Belledune Port Authority) identified additional milestones to be achieved in order to be able to formulate specific policy recommendations and present an executable strategic plan to assist northern New Brunswick to regain its prosperity.

With the COVID-19 pandemic situation dragging New Brunswick's economy just days after the Symposium was held, these plans are now more important than ever. Over the next few months, the Vision North committee as well as stakeholders and business owners in northern New Brunswick will have the opportunity to present their vision for reviving the northern economy while all levels of government are working to determine how to emerge from the recession caused by COVID-19. Planners and policymakers will seek answers to ensure that the “new normal” after the pandemic includes positive changes that could allow the province to transition into a period of transformation and growth.

Read the full report

July 28, 2020

Dr. Sarah McRae is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Brunswick and a member of the JDI Roundtable research team.

The JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick is an independent research program made possible through the generosity of J.D. Irving, Ltd. The funding supports arms-length research conducted at UNB.

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