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.”