Put Moncton’s future in the hands of the willing

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It’s fast becoming apparent that if the community of interests that comprises Greater Moncton intends to erect any of its many imagined monuments to civic pride and progress (including, but not limited to, a downtown events centre) it must turn to private enterprises, voluntary organizations and institutions to get the job done.

Governments, it seems, are otherwise occupied counting their dwindling supply of loonies and obfuscating the public debate with impenetrable statements like the one Moncton City Manager Jacques Dube issued the other day to a Moncton Times & Transcript reporter on the subject of concert dates for Magnetic Hill:

“(City) staff need a couple more weeks to prepare final recommendations in relation to potential changes to concert and event governance, organizational structures and any new financial parameters regarding future concerts and events at Magnetic Hill, the Stadium, the Coliseum and other city venues.”

From this, it seems entirely reasonably to conclude that bafflegab-production has usurped actual event-prospecting over at Casa del Mudtown.

The good news is that just as some city officials and elected representatives (not all, to be sure and to be fair) take their time figuring out how they feel about our live sports and entertainment scene – i.e., whether or not a new events centre should support a full-blown, downtown renaissance, or just itself; whether or not Magnetic Hill will ever again attract the likes of the Rolling Stones, and 75,000 fans, for one weekend of gloriously bacchanalian spending – some of us, at least, are willing to pick up the ball.

I’m not especially fond of summitry in any of its guises. Too often, events involving a few hundred people, representing a few hundred different points of view, convened to “get things done” produce precisely the opposite effect. But the final report of the recent “Greater Moncton – One Region, One Vision 2014” conference suggests that this gathering was the happy exception to my rule.

Most impressive, perhaps, was the degree of unanimity it achieved on concrete issues that affect all sectors and industry segments in the metropolitan area.

All participants agreed, for example, that the tri-city area must draw more talent, more immigrants, into its orbit. “Our economic, cultural and social advancement will be strengthened through attracting more newcomers to the community,” the report observed. “Even the professional sectors are having a harder time attracting workers compared to the recent past.”

Though summiteers complained about the federal government’s notoriously ineffectual temporary foreign worker program, some suggested solutions they, themselves, could offer, such as “strengthening the linkages between industries and educational institutions; and raising the profile of industry among young people.”

Other priorities included engendering greater “industry-specific collaboration” to address joint problems; nurturing entrepreneurship and “strengthening the start-up ecosystem (involving) access to capital, mentorship and guidance and physical incubation spaces; and “fostering Greater Moncton’s role as a regional services centre” especially for the nascent natural gas industry in the province.

Of course, we know a community is largely on the right course when its members – ably articulating its advantages as well as its challenges – find that its strengths and weakness are actually two signs of the same municipal coin.

By summit consensus, for example, one of Greater Moncton’s top 10 competitive boons is its “entrepreneurial spirit”. At the same time, one of its key drawbacks is the “lack of new entrepreneurs.”

These two facts, juxtaposed as they are in the same urban headspace, immediately suggest strategies for real progress – the obvious one being to leverage the experience of existing entrepreneurs to mentor, promote and provide new opportunities for promising, youthful startups.

This is the type of active, collaborative, inventive, and mindful approach to solving problems and, frankly, just getting things done that this metropolitan area needs now, before it grows inured to habitual underachievement in governments at all levels.

So says the Summit report: “The success of Greater Moncton over the past 25 years has been in large part due to cooperation and collaboration. The 2014 Greater Moncton Economic Summit was the start of a process meant to rekindle this spirit of collaboration.”

We may only hope that from Moncton City Hall’s perspective that process comes just in the nick of time.

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