MARYSTOWN, NL – Nancy Healey believes it’s time to think small.
“We had mega-projects drive our economy for quite a long time,” said Healey, chief executive officer of the St. John’s Board of Trade.
“Now what we need is 1,000 small businesses, which will be the one mega-project.”
Healey was keynote speaker at the Burin Peninsula Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting held Jan. 24 at the Marystown Hotel and Convention Centre.
She believes growing many small businesses would provide more steady employment for the province than one mega-project.
“If everybody does their little bit and grows their business – looks to employ one more person, to export, to be a bit more innovative in how they deliver things, we can have a thousand points of light.”
During her address Healey discussed figures found in the provincial government’s economic forecast for 2018.
“Every one of the significant numbers – household income, gross domestic product, disposable income, (and) retail sales over the next five years are going down,” she said.
“They’re not going in the right direction.”
Healey said some years ago the St. John’s Board of Trade ran a campaign to encourage business owners to invest in their futures while business was at its best, “because it’s not going to stay at a boom forever, it’s going to go bust, and I fear that (investment) didn’t happen as much.”
She added the board is taking some inspiration from the “Michigan Turnaround Plan,” a 2010-document that mapped out a way for the State of Michigan to improve its economy and increase employment.
“One of the main things they did (was) to measure a whole bunch of metrics about how much disposable income people had, personal growth, the number of jobs … the number of companies that were exporting, the number of companies that were more innovative.”
She said these factors are not currently taken into consideration in our province’s fiscal planning.
Immigration is another important factor in improving the province’s financial future, said Healey.
“We know that we have more people set to retire than we do entering the labour force in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said. “We’ve had (a) declining fertility rate for a very long time, so we need to attract more people here.”
She said finding a way to reverse out-migration is also key.
Loretta Lewis, out-going president of the Burin Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said Healey’s presentation raised many points the chamber can use to help determine the Burin Peninsula’s business community needs.
“We need to get more recent current data,” she said. “It’s time to go back now and work with government… because a lot of our tradespeople have moved away, but there are still (people) here that are unemployed and really are anxious to go to work.”
Lewis said various councils, groups and organizations on the Burin Peninsula also need to work together to come up with solutions to better promote the region, as well as their own towns.
Many business opportunities on the Burin Peninsula are not being tapped, such as tourism, said Lewis.
“We need to do what Bonavista is doing,” she explained. “We have all these little regions, neck of the woods, little crooks and crannies… around the peninsula that we need to explore and promote.”
Lewis also said the chamber needs to continue developing its relationship with the St. Pierre and Miquelon Chamber of Commerce.
“We have a relationship now, but we need to further develop that and work on it,” she said. “It is very important that we keep that relationship fresh and it ties into our tourism.”
In discussing the province’s fiscal situation, Healey referred to the St. John’s Board of Trade’s #forthem initiative, a social media campaign “started by a group of concerned citizens to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador is a desirable and viable place for the next generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to live and make a living,” she said.
More details about the initiative are available at https://forthem.blog/about/.
Healey said the initiative’s two major concerns are the provincial debt and declining demographics.
She added the initiative encourages the provincial government to bring spending in line with the national average.
Regarding the #forthem initiative and its emphasis on trimming public sector spending, Loretta Lewis said there are always two sides to every story, and “I think that needs to be handled very cautiously,” she said.
She said public employees play an important role in the province and are valued for their contributions.
“There’s a lot of conversation out there about it, and we need to make sure it’s the actual truth of it and we both need to come together and compromise – not cancel each other out in the process.”