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COMMENTARY: Year 2020 and beyond – Part 1

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

Our upcoming municipal elections and the choices of leadership we make for our county and two towns will be significant factors in the quality of life we enjoy going forward.

I believe that the economic choices we make over the next five years, will determine what kind of a future our offspring enjoy as this century rolls out. And the effectiveness of these choices will heavily depend on the creativity and vision of our leaders working in collaboration.

Looking back over time, I have been struck by the impact “changing circumstances” have had on the fortunes of some nations in the world. Who would have thought that following the discovery of oil in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia, once a nation of largely nomadic people, would grow to be the 18th largest economy in the world?

Likewise, for the small nation of Norway, shipping and hydroelectricity were once important but not spectacular sources of income, until North Sea oil was discovered in 1969. Thanks to its trillion dollar “oil heritage fund” Norway is now one of the wealthiest per capita countries in the world.

Our own province once enjoyed a “golden age” in the past when shipbuilding, and marine-based manufacturing and sea-going transportation, created a thriving economy for our predecessors to enjoy. Unfortunately, less benevolent “changing circumstances”, such as the advent of steam propulsion and steel -hulled ships closed literally hundreds of shipyards in our province and put a big dent in our largely maritime-based economy.

Other punishing circumstances followed, including the growth of central Canadian and northern U.S manufacturing, and a growing market for lower cost products not saddled by uncompetitive transportation costs to key markets. This was soon followed by a flight of financial support, as banks and other sources of capital abandoned our province for more lucrative regions leaving us dependant on a largely rural economy without the financial wherewithal to develop substitute wealth-generating sectors.

As a born optimist, I moved to considering what positive “changing circumstances” might be in our future to bring us back to something of a “golden age”. Perversely, after some thought, “climate change” and “global security” came to mind as potentially very positive global influences on our future economic growth.

For example, consider the global warming trends that are becoming more apparent as each year goes by, and their impact on the North American continent. According to climate models, Nova Scotia’s average temperatures in this century are likely to increase by several degrees over the next few decades, with longer growing seasons and more days of rain, in place of ice and snow; while our neighbour to the south experiences increasing serious “desertification”, whereby fertile land is transformed into arid desert, as a result of increasing temperatures, drought, soil erosion and deforestation.

With such changes, the agricultural sector in our province will become an increasingly important contributor to our economy, contributing a wider range of produce for local, and out of province consumption. Such a trend would also significantly reduce the need to import produce that eats up our hard-earned wealth, when we should be aiming to import more cash than we export.

To exploit such environmental trends to our benefit, we are fortunate to have established the Cumberland Business Connector which supports and influences economic development in our county, particularly in the agricultural area. Cumberland County, while representing just 3% of the provincial population, is home to 14% of Nova Scotia farms and is blessed with 30% of the quality soils in the province.

To fully exploit opportunities in areas such as these, our future leaders will need to ensure that adequate human capital is available and embodied in our youth.

It’s long been recognised that long-term economic growth is highly dependant on the creation of fresh “human capital” in communities like Cumberland County. Human capital is a measure of the economic value of our workforce in terms of the skills, knowledge, and the experience it possesses.

It strikes me that in NSCC we are blessed with a local post-secondary educational institution whose main purpose in life is to build human capital ……and they do an outstanding job at it....with thankfully more to come.

A later Part 2 of this article will deal with “global security” as the second major “changing circumstance” that I believe will have profound positive effects on our provincial and local economies, in even as unlikely a sector as our growing tourism industry.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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