Provincial committee hears new economic development plan

Regional development networks to work with universities

Dr. Tom Traves, Lilani Kumaranayake and Simon d’Entremont release Invest N.S. to help advance the economy with regional support. Photo: Julia Manoukian

A successful business climate is a collaborative effort.

That was the spirit at this morning’s legislative committee meeting on economic and rural development.

Former Dalhousie president Tom Traves presented his economic development report to MLAs and described how the results will be integrated into Invest Nova Scotia, a new economic development fund meant to advance the N.S. economy.

Traves’ report was published in February and has played a major role in shaping Invest Nova Scotia’s policies.

“Short-term job creation or retention are not necessarily the best ways to develop a strategy,” Traves said. “In the long-run, the best economic development programs are those that essentially concentrate on investments in activities that will build long-term, sustainable economic enterprises.”

“This requires some measure of patience and doesn’t always address the crisis du jour,” he added.

Traves was joined by economic and rural development deputy minister Simon d’Entremont and policy and planning director Lilani Kumaranayake to highlight key aspects of the report and to take questions from MLAs.

MLA Lenore Zann (Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River) wondered whether “lowering corporate taxes is a good tool for economic growth,” which the government is currently reviewing.

Zann asked for names of companies that are currently granted the Federal Atlantic Tax Credit. However Traves said because of tax regulation no names could be disclosed.

“That doesn’t sound exactly very transparent,” Zann said.

Lunenburg MLA Suzanna Lohnes-Croft was concerned about the lack of geographic diversity on Invest Nova Scotia’s board.

“I see no one from my part of the province. I’m very concerned about that,” she said.

While Cape Breton has two representatives, the south shore has none.

Croft doesn’t want bureaucrats making decisions about communities they know nothing about.

“I don’t think they have a concept of life in rural Nova Scotia,” she says.

The standing committee on economic development met this morning to discuss new legislation for the N.S. economy. Photo: Julia Manoukian

According to the report, the objectives of Invest Nova Scotia include:

  • Enhance workforce-skills development to improve competitiveness
  • Enhance innovation, including applied research and development, pilot projects and trials
  • Support strategic trade links, gateways or economic infrastructure
  • Engage in regional development with emphasis on high unemployment regions

The development agency differs from the current one in four ways, according to the report:

  • Looks at sectors and regions rather than support for individual businesses
  • Clearer separation with Nova Scotia Business Inc. (November NSBI legislation amendments focus on individual business support)
  • No role for cabinet in decision-making - the board makes the decisions, the minister and department implement
  • No equity-type transactions

MLA Ben Jesson (Hammonds Plains - Lucasville) asked about collaboration for small businesses.

D’Entremont responded by saying small businesses can collaborate with corporate bodies that represent the interests of smaller businesses such as the wine association of Nova Scotia.

“Universities are showing a keen interest in being drivers of economic development in their regions,” says d’Entremont.

Acadia has already partnered with local wineries expanding their research opportunity and presence in the region.

“As we move to the knowledge economy more and more, people are interested less and less in buildings and more and more in people,” said d’Entremont.

Applications are expected to be coming in shortly. The committee has decided to evaluate their portfolio every five years.