The changes taking place in society are so pervasive that they are causing fundamental shifts in our thinking, attitudes and our approaches to development issues. The integration of economies, shifts in manufacturing bases, communications developments and technological developments are having impacts, causing stress and re-evaluation of institutions, programs and methodologies.
In essence, we are arriving at a new plateau of intellectual understanding, resulting in fascinating shifts even in the language we use. Multinational companies are becoming irrelevant and new integrated mergers are taking place. Liaisons between companies who once were arch-rivals are forming. These new integrated units will perform R & D functions, manufacturing, production and marketing activities. What has been created are new economic unions which in turn bring about new political relationships and a re-consideration of existing legislation and legislative authorities.
In Europe, North America and Asia these changes are evident in the efforts to forge new trade alliances, trade agreements, resulting in the removal of both tariff and legal barriers. These phenomena are political reactions to economic realities, rather than political vision being enacted. More of this fundamental change is imminent.
We are being forced to redesign our work patterns and our job portfolios as well as our education and training programs. A massive effort will be required to re-orient people and their priorities. Our approach to wealth-creation along with wealth redistribution is having interesting impacts on our social agendas and how we deliver social programs.
Local levels of administration will become more vibrant, more valued and more important in the scheme of policy making and program design. Methodologies to integrate local impact and decision-making into more regional democracy issues are imperative. Devolution of power has begun; acceptance of this authority is at hand.
The local challenge is significant. How we prepare our citizens for this new era and new plateau is of extreme importance. Conventional approaches to development which are top down will no longer suffice. Neither will community-based development predicated on strictly social issues or straight economic thrusts. Economic promotion and prospecting approaches have been fundamentally altered because of the global shifts taking place.
Developing new models must begin with evaluating present approaches and past experience in order to arrive at some appreciation of our present status. We must begin to look at the more global setting in order to understand our fit into an evolving world. The effort has to be undertaken by individuals, communities, provinces and even countries.
Local efforts in development have been predicated on national resources, physical attributes, and services available. We evaluate them in terms of strengths, weaknesses and threats and develop plans and strategies based on this evaluation. Usually, the exercise is carried out in relative isolation from the external environment. In other words, we look at the map, pinpoint our community or region, and begin to plan based on what resources are inherent in our boundaries. The real dilemma in a more globalized and intellectual society is that most other communities or regions in any proximity will have similar attributes to offer. Real competitive advantage will depend primarily on our human resource, proximity and interrelationship with the new developing regions that evolve as economic patterns materialize.
The human resource and its development will be significant – as will the ability to envision the more global and ongoing restructuring. Identifying one’s community- or region-integration will be most important. Natural resources and physical attributes are becoming much less valuable as assets while quality of life, communications-linkages and educational resources become more valuable.
Quality of life includes cultural assets, cultural integration and the sophistication of culture industries. This sector thus becomes one of great consequence and will have to be targeted for support and encouragement. We will see the integration of education and visual arts as we research new methods for instruction and training.
To address more clearly these fundamental shifts that are happening, let me suggest some examples of both economic shifts and political reactions helping to shape our North American Society.
The recent merging of activities by such corporate grants as IBM and Apple demonstrates the economic powerplays taking place. Who would have envisioned an integrated development approach by these two companies even five years ago? Another example is the integration of IBM and several communications corporations to research efforts to address transmission which utilize light sources instead of electro-magnetic waves. Then there are the experiments by IBM and major cable interests to develop a model community with integrated telematic and telecommunications technologies. Time-Warner is being courted to produce specialized programming for this new model network whereby people will be able to shop, bank, receive educational instruction and select the entertainment programs of their choice. All this has enormous implications for our very use of broadcasting, entertainment and the education infrastructure.
There are numerous other examples (e.g. in the automotive and retail spheres) of this new integrated approach to business. The result will be innovative business relationships, different research and development endeavors, reshaped management models and completely redesigned corporate structures. A new era is unfolding unlike any we have seen before.
These economic thrusts are shaping the political agendas as well. The inability of national governments to control either economic levers, interest rates or currency patterns denotes fundamental shifts.
The rapid movement towards trading blocks is being expedited by corporate shifts. Hardly had the Canada/U.S. free trade agreement been negotiated and implemented when we were into Mexico/U.S./Canada free trade discussions. This agreement is not fully in place and already efforts are ongoing to include Central America as well.
I would suggest that such agreements are reactions by governments rather than proactions. They are efforts by policymakers to rationalize economic shifts that have already happened. For example, economic moves to Mexico by the auto industry, Bombardier and Northern Telecom (along with a host of other Canadian corporations) were enacted two to three years ago – occurrences caused not by free trade agreements but economic advantages brought about through a loosening of Mexican regulations, more openness to foreign investment and by the ensuing economic opportunities of a country with 88 million people living in an under-developed environment.
This activity has already had an impact on the economic scene in Canada by displacing uncompetitive labour-intensive industries and by providing new market focuses for more technologically-advanced companies such as Bombardier and Northern Telecom.
Interesting political impacts as well as new thrusts and approaches to development activities are emerging. Note the growing integration of economic activities in Western Canada via the blossoming of the relationship developed between Alberta, British Columbia and several western United States. The elimination of trade barriers and the growing cooperation in promotion and marketing are just two results. Consider the recent recognition of the close integration of the Ontario, Michigan and New York economies. There is discussion among Ontario economic developers of the requirement to create better linkages with their counterparts in the border states.
The recent economic agreements developed by the four Canadian Atlantic Provinces indicate recognition of a changing marketplace. Their integration and closer relations with the Eastern United States Seaboard states are predictable.
These agreements will eventually have a dynamic impact on local economic and community development initiatives. They will lead to much more integrated approaches and a greater degree of well-thought-out strategies. These strategies will ultimately have each local community rationalizing its natural resources and attributes in relation to the larger centres in these developing regional blocks. Each will have to identify its own relationship, proper integration and logical fit.
Strategies will have to include more emphasis on human resources and their development needs. Identification of the economic and service activities that other centres require and which could be carried out in more rural settings will be the thrust. The search for plants and factories which can be relocated is already a redundant exercise. Quality of life and communications linkages will be of primary consideration. Physical infrastructure and natural resources will be secondary.
Thus, community development approaches will begin with human resource inventories, their strengths and weaknesses. The natural abilities, talents and cultural attributes of the local populace will become of ultimate significance. People’s ability to be self-reliant, self-motivated and mobile will be key considerations. Physical strengths and weaknesses will be categorized in relationship to more global developments and new regional integrations. The greatest threat will be an inability or unwillingness to recognize these fundamental shifts that are occurring. The challenge is to develop institutions, programs and structures that are relevant.
The globalization of society is proceeding apace. The challenge for local development is in recognizing its realities, becoming aware of its implications, educating its participants and charting a cause in a positive and complementary direction. We must approach development by building on our human resources and developing competitive advantages that are integrated with adjacent communities, regions and jurisdictions. This will entail new thinking, new language and a much more open and tolerant attitude.