The idea of resource management is both timely and critical to Canadian economic growth. While many national economies are challenged or failing, the domestic economy remains the envy of many around the world.
On Prince Edward Island we are not blessed with the benefit of traditional resources. Our most enduring export is our people, and today the demands on this precious commodity have never been greater.
My grandfather had 11 siblings in his family. Nine relocated to the U.S. early this century, primarily to Boston.
My grandfather remained on the Island, but found himself commuting off Island for work to support his family. In the 50’s it was the DEW Line (Distant Early Warning System), today this cycle continues with the economic booms in the Western and Eastern provinces.
The demands on our scarce resource are great. The projected independent needs in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland could absorb our entire working population.
Also working against us is the affect of demographic trends. In 2018, there will be more deaths than births on Prince Edward Island — five years from now — and unfortunately it takes 18 years to make an 18 year old.
Ron Ashkenas stated in a Harvard Business Review article “For the next 19 years, 10,000 people per day will turn 65 years old, and (presumably) retire shortly thereafter.” How can any society accommodate this, and more importantly how can the Island withstand the predictable erosion of our primary asset, our people.
The predictable response is “we can’t withstand this.” This would offer only a defeatist acknowledgement. The response must be, we see the issue and will create strategies to address these challenges.
We can’t stop people from working outside our region. The benefits are too compelling, but they do come at a cost. We can encourage people to return: workers, students, travelers and tourists. Every recaptured human asset has the potential to equal four.
The physical environment of our Island is an easy sell, but what of our economic environment. How compelling is our educational environment, or our health-services environment, our tax competitiveness (we have among the highest income and sales taxes in the country).
How can our economy better serve our citizens by creating employment opportunities in our province that keep people from traveling? How do we increase the relative wage rate so the draw to other provinces is not so great, while providing a compelling rational for people to locate to our province?
The answer is in industry. The track record of government-assisted economic development has consistently failed. We must rely on the creativity and entrepreneurship of resident Islanders. Providing the environment for business to thrive will create an environment for society’s principled services to prosper.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian’s small business columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.