Innovation in NB is alive and well

Garden15

Daily journalism can be a truly Oz-like experience for those who travel down the yellow-brick road only to pull back the curtain and find utterly confused, old codgers pulling the levers that keep our steam-punked imaginations firing on contradictory versions of reality.

A case in point emerged recently in the pages of Canada’s self-anointed national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. On the one hand, noted columnist Barrie McKenna insisted that the nation’s innovation agenda is a complete disaster; on the other, labour economist Jim Stanford declared that value-added manufactured exports (which rely on innovation) from here are enjoying a late-season renaissance.

Says Mr. McKenna: “Every two years, the federally appointed Science, Technology and Innovation Council issues a status report on how Canada is doing in the global innovation race. The council has now produced four such reports, the latest released this fall. And each time, it’s the same distressing finding: Canada’s business sector is not stepping up to the plate. Companies are investing less now in research and development than they were in 2007, and every year they’re falling further behind the countries that lead the world in generating great ideas and economic growth.”

Then, there’s this from Mr. Stanford in his own Globe commentary: “There is growing evidence that the national economy is starting to pivot away from its past over-reliance on the extraction and export of raw natural resources. Instead, Canada’s high-technology industrial base is starting to flex its muscles once again. And the first place this economic reorientation is becoming visible is in recent data on international trade.”

He continues: “Statistics Canada defines five broad categories of ‘value-added’ merchandise exports – industries that rely primarily on technology, productivity and skilled labour, instead of just the availability of natural resources. These sectors include industrial machinery, electrical and electronic products, motor vehicles and parts, consumer goods, and aircraft and other transportation equipment. These technology-intensive products typically command premium prices on global markets, in contrast to depressed commodity prices.”

Of course, these pundits are both right and wrong in their own special ways, and the only question reading both of them raises is: Whose version of the world do you want to believe?

If I were forced to choose between the doom and gloom of Mr. McKenna and the hope and sun of Mr. Stanford, I would, with no reluctance at all, select door No. 2. Here’s why.

One of the very few economic bright spots in New Brunswick these days is home grown innovation. Given the province’s fiscal woes and perennial lack of financial resources, that seems like a paradox worthy of economic pundits. Nevertheless, it appears to be durable.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation reported last month, for example, that Eigen Innovations, a Fredericton-based start-up “got an international boost placing third in the Cisco Systems’ Global Innovation Grand Challenge at the Internet Of Things World Forum in Dubai. Eigen was the only Canadian company to make it to the final six, and as the third place winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize plus business opportunities with the network solutions giant.”

The company’s main product “tells operators and engineers the where, when and how processes or product quality is starting to degrade within highly complex manufacturing systems. . . .After a series of elimination rounds, Eigen made it onto the list of 15 semi-finalists, announced in October 2015.”

Sadly, daily journalism too often fails to capture the stories of these jewels of hope and opportunity. We’d do better to pull back the curtain and discover the utterly brilliant among us.

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