Monday, January 14, 2013

Submission of Reasoned Suggestions to The Nova Scotia Commission on Building our New Economy

Title: Submission of Reasoned Suggestions to

How to get more than six seconds: Why did it take three hundred years and an Icelandic entrepreneur for Nova Scotian stockfish heads and tails to find an export market in Africa?


This letter to your committee receives a preface; Dr. Ray Ivany, you made a pledge to call all Acadia Alumni upon arriving at your current post. I am still waiting for your call, my telephone number is 1-902-681-0504.


Now allow me to give a backgrounder: Bred on English language by the Acadia University Department of English Literature and Theatre my BA was gained with three years of science studies while working as an international shipping lobster packer, grader and cook at Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound. I worked my way across Canada and ended up spending the last fifteen years teaching and studying abroad in Korea and The United Arab Emirates, gaining a Master’s of International Business from The University of Wollongong in Dubai and Australia in the top 5% of my class and holding a letter of recommendation for doctoral studies from the Dean.

UOW Sydney Business School has gained fourteen positions of quality to third ranked business school in Australia over the past eight years since I graduated. The program has doubled in size, price and duration and it was the first MIB graduate program in the nation.

Where are the comparable improvements in quality and ranking of Nova Scotia Business Schools?

A most recently completed eGSA Graduate Certificate in Research Commercialisation with Queensland University of Technology comes from the Australia Technology Network (ATN). eGSA provides preferred research management training for The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) around Australia. QUT is the first institution in the world to offer a Master’s in Research Management.

Where is such training available in Canada?

My travel and research experiences have taken me to:  South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Italy, Spain, France, The Netherlands, The United States, Australia and Canada.
There are those who travel to expand the mind; there are those who visit as many places as possible. Personally I like about a week at a time in a new city. Since completing my most recent teaching position for a record breaking six years and besides off-ramping here since March 2012, I found the time to visit a new place every week from July to December across the Southern US States, Morocco for two months and Southern and Central Spain for a month.

A year off-ramped in Nova Scotia; a dozen applications to relevant teaching positions at Nova ScotiaCommunity College and a half a dozen export trade positions at NSBI without a single call back getting a real sense of what newcomers here face.


The English major in me reads most texts cover to cover, the international business teacher adds new knowledge and method based on what appears to be working elsewhere and compiles long bibliographical references in the case studies I have researched. At the moment, I am on a 24 hour deadline for submitting a panel position proposal for the first time to the Academy of International Business on the topic of comparative investment strategies in China and India for the 2013 Conference in Istanbul; a city I am familiar with and would enjoy returning to visit. It is the first time they have asked me to and as an itinerant and contract teacher abroad looking for work there is nothing better than a conference. So please accept that my global to local suggestions are un-referenced however in due time accessible if need be.


It is my opinion that rural Nova Scotia is running out of good ideas as well as people. So my first suggestion is to start looking at other well developed nations that are facing similar challenges all at the same time. Particularly good research is coming out of Terry Mughan’s Department at Anglia Ruskin University and The East of England Development Agency on the topic of business incentives to repopulating rural or economic wastelands with small scale superstores to replace bankrupt groceries in food desert environments. When the researchers present the business case to, for example, Tesco, that square footage profit returns are nearly identical in well placed heritage districts, decaying communities get walking distance food sources that haven’t existed in many locations for fifty years.

His results based applied research is just a taste of what is out there.


Nova Scotia is full of rural communities that have seen most of their essential services close, reducing their attractiveness to newcomers. The triple helix model of higher education institutions, government and local businesses designing regional partnerships is off and running in many nations compared to Nova Scotia. The scales of these partnerships are determined through rate of return business cases.

A character like Ifor Ffowcs-Williams comes to mind as a Canadian triple helix model and cellular team building across disciplines expert who could probably assist you in internationalizing and globalizing your rural development programs. I think you need more knowledge based exchanges with Nova Scotian based experts taking work terms in other regions of the developed world to assist in developing strategies that are really working elsewhere and repatriate good ideas from abroad.


These are the kinds of learning and knowledge exchanges that the Japanese conducted after WW II to rebuild a shattered economy. They are also documented in several quality framework improvements in government and community services undertaken in places like New Zealand around the same time as the Japanese. As for Nova Scotians, there are some culturally inherent skills that we do better than anywhere else in the world so an accountable checklist of world leading advantages to the way Nova Scotians tackle certain challenges better than anywhere else in the world needs to be made. Exchange is always about sharing as much as is received. Unfortunately, Nova Scotia shares much of Canada’s cultural and global knowledge complacency. Less than 2% of all higher education students have international work or study experiences in Canada.

So why not double the number of business, education, and government leaders concerned with this issue committed to taking international exchanges over the next ten years? Should not these Nova Scotians take the time to go abroad and learn of new ways to handle similar local challenges and should not their commitment to do so be as incentives to their own promotions and advancement? Such quality knowledge gathering strategies have worked all over the world and improved the quality of lives of workers, students, governments and societies for millennia.


Nobody needs to tell you, you know already, your business and personal taxes are the most horrendous in the nation surely advertising, “Don’t come here.” So this suggestion is multifaceted. Observe New Brunswick’s historical and seemingly better track record of attracting new businesses that exactly remain beyond incentives. They are certainly doing something differently to make that happen, and while I don’t know what that is, there is a very near example of where comparative learning and application could be taking place. However considering your rates of return on recent millions provided to either profitable or non-profitable enterprises as of late, there is a better example. Take a look at the foreign direct investment policies for example in Sri Lanka or Thailand.

While Sri Lanka is making do with low skilled industries with low wages and benefits, there is the distinct possibility that free trade zones in Nova Scotia employing potential immigrants or foreign workers as low skilled labourers would actually work. Especially if unionized port environment construction and maintenance teams were employed. The cost to deliver to markets might make up the difference. As the new regional development authorities are being formed, they should encompass free trade zones for particular industries on a similar design framework as a country like Thailand where Bangkok does not beggar its rural regions, in fact the farther you get from the capital the better the incentives are. As the US import and export economy as set to double in scale and logistical capacities by the year 2025, it makes sense to look at the hinterland port schemes employed in parts of China and Singapore. Western Europe has also managed to set up a few as well.


Factories and port facilities are often indistinguishable in Asia to avoid costly delivery and logistics delays due to poor transport infrastructure. In my opinion, many of Nova Scotia’s underutilized ports should be free trade zones where they could even promote sweatshop free practices. These are creative suggestions that are working in many international ports and rural incentive programs around the world. The only difference there would be between having labourers assemble your many common household and consumer products in South East Asia and Canada is a few thousand kilometres and ever increasing energy constraints. There are probably dozens of Asian manufacturers as well as Mexican based maquiladoras who might lose out if a similar ready to occupy infrastructure were prepared for relocations.

Excellent examples of heritage port facilities which could and should be renovated into free trade small business zones exist all over Nova Scotia.


I am thinking of companies like Allen’s or Canada Packer’s, Maple Leaf Foods, or Larsen’s, the list goes on, what research into new foreign markets and product adaptations to meet ever shifting demands was going on in these decades old companies? What local universities were assisting them by sending student teams out into net food importing nations such as those in North East Asia to find out what their tastes might be? To give two unrelated examples, I choose Korean ones.

Not everyone eats wieners and beans.

Did you know that Korean jewellery manufacturers dominate the supply of the Dubai Gold Souk and they learned how to do so by sending market researchers out there consulting with wholesalers and delivering a quality product and that that domination of the market did not take place in decades but in years? Or that Samsung cellphones for example, do not dominate based upon price or quality but upon the short and dizzying three month life cycles of their phones or that they test release dozens of new products in their home Korean market because, for most global companies in the world, Korea is one of the best test market guinea pigs?


I often wonder if some of the local businesses above could have been saved in selective three and five year international market penetration plans with tailored products to offer those consumers not here at home but in emerging markets abroad which have the most growth.

They aren’t in Europe or Boston, they are in Africa where the Chinese are making billions, they are in Tamil Nadu where the Japanese and Koreans are making billions; new markets are growing, that’s where Nova Scotian products need to be sold. I remember walking into a five story warehouse of Italian household furniture in Busan, Korea a few years ago and thinking to myself, “not one of these chairs looks as good as a Bass River Chair.” And when I contacted Bass River Chairs and suggested they might find a good market there for their products, their manager told me they don’t do exports. And now Bass River Chairs no longer exists.


The takeaway is any product based company in Nova Scotia that has existed for more than five years should be given a tax incentive to hire a dedicated export manager and eventually five years later, two more to form a full export department without excuses.  Especially in traditional and culturally intangible industries like even quilting or knitting or the carding of wool, the makers of goat’s cheese, the brewers of fair trade coffee; in Korea there’s a guy who salts smoked mackerel by hand and he is more famous there than Colonel Saunders.


How many of Nova Scotia’s universities are presenting international students with internet welcome pages in their own native languages? How many of them are coordinating with The Department of Tourism to design similar local language information and booking services for visits to Nova Scotia? How many of the international students in school boards across the province are coordinating with The Department of Tourism to welcome student’s families to this beautiful province?

And when you say that the school boards and universities of this province are not responsible for improving economic and employment opportunities here and engaging the international markets of the world with the same dedication those Team Canada hockey players put into the game, the purpose of education is put into doubt.

And again, how many Nova Scotian school boards are studying the non-profit agencies in Northern British Columbia to ensure that little two room schoolhouses like those in the Wentworth Valley get to stay open because they’re not only still serving rural and small community schools but fully financing their operating costs through their international student draws? Finally, how many Nova Scotian universities are operating offshore campuses or franchise operations to ensure their market is being adequately presented abroad?

There are multiple solutions to keeping schools in rural Nova Scotia. Why aren’t the national and international best practices available to be implemented not being made? The tourist draw of international students in their home nations, are they being pursued?


It is not my intention to overwhelm your committee with my suggestions. However it is my opinion, that if Nova Scotians had all of the answers and the examples of what works here in their midst, then you would not be asking for opinions from the general public and the state of affairs would be rosier and brighter than they are.

In Nova Scotia and perhaps Canada and the western world, the suggestion box is almost always nearly empty when compared with those in places like Japan. Our quality of life depends on trying out new ideas that make sense. But without a culture that rewards and applies new ideas to improve the quality of life of its citizens, many of the best and brightest lighthouse keepers, where pure research and one person’s one idea begins, will always remain on foreign shores.

Good ideas make sense at any time. It’s my pleasure to share mine with you, so don’t be devaluing the training and experience it took to submit them to you however free. Imagine what the result could be? Perhaps six seconds turns into six minutes?


Daniel J. Costello

Daniel J. Costello, BA (Acadia) MIB (UOW)

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