Mills takes argument on urban-development

James McLeod
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Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates, speaks about urban and rural economic trends to the St. John’s Board of Trade Wednesday.
— Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Don Mills found a receptive audience at the St. John’s Board of Trade for his message that economic development needs to happen in urban centres, not rural Newfoundland.

During a speech Thursday afternoon, Mills talked about some of the demographic and polling trends he’s been studying, and why rural economic development just isn’t realistic.

“We have to stop talking about rural, and we have to start talking about urban,” he said.

Sharon Horan, vice-chairwoman of the Board of Trade, said she liked the ideas she was hearing.

“We have to be careful of too much sprawl. Sprawl leads to increased costs to deliver the same amount of services to the same number of people,” she said. “When we look at population density, that makes sense for us.”

Mills’ core point is that people need to understand that economic development happens in urban centres, even if those urban centres are towns of only 5,000 people or so.

He said that people need to be prepared to commute for work, and that real economic activity and government services will happen successfully in towns and cities, not in rural parts of Atlantic Canada.

He said his company, Corporate Research Associates, is currently doing polling on how far people say they’re prepared to commute for work. Mills said he suspects it’s a relatively short distance of 10 kilometres or so.

“If that’s the case, good luck, because you’re not going to have services and you’re not going to have job opportunities. You’re actually going to have to travel for some of those things,” he said. “That’s the change in expectations that we’ve got to accept in this region.”

Horan, said that the Board of Trade believes the government needs to get out of the way and let businesses decide where things happen.

“Diversification is the responsibility of the business community,” she said. “What we need the government to do is create an environment for us where business can succeed, and business will naturally find business where business is meant to be.”

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Recent comments

  • Edgar
    June 29, 2013 - 15:17

    This is what is called narrow minded or rust on the brain from the lack of use,this sounds like Joey Smallwood all over again.Let me ask you dare i say Mr mills why do you think the tourism is so popular to the people who visit Newfoundland? with all that rust on the brain we wouldn't you to hurt yourself so allow me to answer for you,it's because of the small outports and the uniqueness that they all have.sure some of them visit the larger centers, but that is not the visitor is looking for that is what they are coming to NL for is to get to somewhere to relax for a holiday not to spend time in traffic.It sounds to me sir you don't have enough culture in your life so i recommend you get out of town and into the small outport and get a real taste of hospitality uoy just might get some of that rust of the brain

  • Frank Tock
    June 29, 2013 - 09:49

    The shrill arguments and indignant beg-to-differ posts against Mr. Mills' position notwithstanding, the fact remains that rural NL could not survive to the extent it has without being chronically propped up by copious quantities of government-funded pogey and welfare provided compliments of taxpayers who reside and work in other, economically viable, regions.

  • wtf
    June 28, 2013 - 07:36

    You don't need a poll or some "expert" to tell you that rural economic development is the same as pouring money down a hole.

    June 27, 2013 - 20:38

    Unfortunately the reputation of the polling industry has taken a big hit in recent years as more and more of its clients are demanding - and getting - a predetermined outcome. As well, some pollsters have crossed the line from objective polling to advocacy and lobbying for a particular cause. There are pollsters who have bucked that trend. Groups like Pew Research, for example, are highly reputable, value their objectivity, and refuse to take policy positions on public issues. Clearly Mr. Mills sees no such conflict. Moreover, when it comes to rural versus urban development, it is hard to see how his poll results actually support his views on the subject. Beyond the question of independence and objectivity, his speech to the Board of Trade raises a bigger issue – competence. His alarming views reflect a serious misunderstanding of the mechanics of regional development and the history of our province. His notion, for example, that economic development occurs only – or even mainly - in urban areas is absurd. That St. John’s is our provincial capital is down to a quirk of history - not its natural resources, not its proximity to major markets, and certainly not its climate. The City's very survival through the centuries is a testament to an abundance of natural resources found - typically - everywhere but St. John’s. First it was the fishery, then forestry, then minerals and now, of course, oil and gas. St. John's is merely the financial and administrative centre for those overwhelmingly rural based industries. It is by government edict - not by dint of resource wealth - the centre of education and health as well as government bureaucracy and corporate management. That St. John's is flourishing today is a product of an extraordinary level of 'economic development' taking place outside the overpass. Massive financial investments in places like Labrador West, Makkovik, the Lower Churchill, Bull Arm, Marystown, Long Harbour. On top of that are the many smaller mineral developments around the province and, of course, the re-incarnation of prominent fisheries communities post-moratorium. To say that government's focus should be on St. John's and other urban areas is music to the ears of this government and to groups like the Board of Trade. We know government cannot indefinitely subsidize regions that have no prospect for revitalization or self-sufficiency. But that is hardly the outlook for the whole of rural Newfoundland; nor should this government be taken off the hook for its continued failure to address the challenges to rural communities. Speaking to the Board of Trade is, of course, preaching to the converted. Says the Board's vice chair, she likes what she hears from Mr. Mills. Surprise, surprise! I don't know whether it's a dearth of intellectual capacity or an unwillingness to use it, but far too often, it seems, the unsubstantiated musings of these so-called experts are allowed to go unchallenged.

  • moreindeed
    June 27, 2013 - 20:00

    Right!, more people in urban areas usually means, more poverty, more crime, more pollution, more traffic, more money in the pockets of greedy business' & the masses living in urban areas won't see a better standard of living.

  • W McLean
    June 27, 2013 - 19:37

    I do not think the word "sprawl" means what Ms. Horan thinks it means.

  • Mark
    June 27, 2013 - 14:50

    Thank you, Mr. Mills! Focusing on urban development like this is something that pioneers like Jane Jacobs talked about for years, but it never caught on in this province. So thank you for delivering the message! The reason why we never had a strong rural NL is because we never really had a strong urban NL. When you look at other provinces that have big cities, those cities act as marketplace for everything that is produced in the surrounding countryside, and they act as cheaper service centres, and centres for research, development, and manufacturing. If only newfoundland had something the size of Calgary or Montreal, the province's fish plants, lumber mills, and other rural enterprises would have a much more accessible marketplace. Thanks again, Mills!

  • Calvin
    June 27, 2013 - 14:20

    The aging population of the residents in the rural areas of Newfoundland & Labrador will take care of some of these issues for us. There are towns scattered throughout the coastline containing maybe a couple hundred people, sometimes less than 100, that will die out with the existing residents. They will become towns with summer cottages and little else. Until this happens the NL government is going to be stuck with the costs of providing services to these towns, because let's face it, these people aren't relocating at this point in their lives.

  • Craig
    June 27, 2013 - 14:11

    Great suggestion is it? Really now? Before you start waving the Don Mills flag here stop and mull this over for a cotton pickn moment! Turn the clock back to 1949 and plant Don Mills in control of things in Ottawa and lets implement his vision! Are ya with me so far? Good because if that had been the case every gosh darned one of us would be reading this from some urban center like Halifax! The St. John's Board of Trade and Don Mills should move if they don't like the business and social atmosphere here! Take their bull shit ideas and their money hungry greedy corporate agenda and stuff em where the sun doesn't shine!