Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nova Scotia outbids for 'smart' jobs

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HALIFAX -- "We will be building the economy of the future, and that's what we're doing today. Young people will be able to find jobs, high-paying jobs here... so they no longer have to pick up and go to Ontario or Alberta."

Those were the words of Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter at an announcement in Halifax last Thursday, where he unveiled a plan by IBM Canada to build its only Canadian global delivery centre in Halifax -- creating 500 jobs over the next eight years -- in exchange for $12.2 million in conditional payroll incentives from the province.

As part of the deal, IBM will assume responsibility for the province's SAP computer system, including management of information relating to the payroll, procurement and human resources activities of government departments, school boards and regional health authorities. IBM will hire 75 of the 120 public servants now doing that work. The rest will move to other government departments.

IBM will also partner with Dalhousie, Saint Mary's, Acadia and St. Francis Xavier universities and a Cape Breton college to train students in analytics, the management and analysis of massive amounts of data.

Halifax columnist Dan Leger describes the benefits of the IBM deal: "$170 million in earned payroll that will go into the pockets of as many as 500 workers. And that cash will get spread around for years to come, including a nice chunk in taxes that will pay a lot of civil-service salaries."

The day before the IBM announcement, Dexter unveiled a deal with Calgary-based Projex Technologies Ltd. that will see it hire 440 engineers -- at an average salary of $90,000 -- for its Halifax office over the next five years. Nova Scotia's contribution will be a "payroll rebate" of approximately $11.4 million, which is only payable after the company achieves annual hiring quotas.

Dexter told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald the engineering jobs will attract skilled professionals back to Nova Scotia and retain some university graduates. "They can hire them to work in Calgary or hire them to work here," he said. "We want these jobs in Nova Scotia."

In the span of 24 hours, Nova Scotia's NDP government inked low-cost deals that will add almost 1,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs, enhance technology training and reduce the size of the provincial civil service.

Contrast that with Manitoba, which saw home-grown, high-tech leader IMRIS decide to move its operations to Minnesota, costing Manitoba 130 biotech jobs.

IMRIS CEO David Graves told the Free Press that Minneapolis offered "a qualified ecosystem of suppliers and partners who understand the costs, quality and regulatory needs of the medical-device market that is right in the middle of our largest customer network."

In plain language, Manitoba didn't have the high-tech infrastructure IMRIS needed, but Minnesota did. The situation will worsen with the imminent shutdown of the National Research Council's Institute of Biodiagnostics.

How did Nova Scotia manage to win so many high-paying high-tech jobs, and reduce the size of its bureaucracy, at such a minimal cost, when Manitoba is losing jobs?

Stephen Lund, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc., told reporters competition for the centre was hot. "We had to prove we could supply enough people and get the universities and colleges involved."

This is a competition that Manitoba, with its lower cost of living, central geographical location and IT infrastructure, should never lose. Like Nova Scotia, we invest millions in the education of our children, only to see too many of our best and brightest end up contributing to the growth of other jurisdictions' economies.

That has to stop. If the Selinger government is serious about building a "smart economy" with "smart jobs" -- if it is committed to increasing the median income, standard of living and intellectual capital in this province -- it needs to work harder to attract the kind of jobs Nova Scotia won last week.

It needs to follow the example set by Canada's other NDP government.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 A17

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