The shift from a goods-producing economy to an intangibles economy is contributing to more economic clustering in and around our major centres and the de-industrialization of smaller, rural, and remote places.
Previous efforts to support people and places affected by regional economic disparity have tended to be rooted in redistribution in the form of equalization and Employment Insurance, as well as labour mobility in the form of tax incentives or training subsidies.
Yet the magnitude of the current economic trends and their accompanying political fallout has caused economists and policy experts to revisit the role of place-based economic strategies to support investment and employment in underperforming communities. There is a growing sense across the political spectrum that to remain inactive is not an option, in the face of worrying economic and political trends.
This report provides three key takeaways from regional and local experiments in Atlantic Canada which may inform the experience of post-secondary leaders, policymakers, and community builders elsewhere in the country. A successful model for people-centric, placed-based economic development:
- Must be rooted in the evidence. It cannot merely involve hypotheses and assumptions on the part of policymakers in Ottawa or the provincial capitals or local business and civil society leaders who may not be able to relate to the international student experience.
- Must be rooted in personal connections and relationships. Student retention cannot be achieved through websites, call centres or mobile apps. Persuading someone to indefinitely live away from their family and culture is not a low-cost, low-touch undertaking. It can only be realized through lunches, phone calls, and individualized training.
- Must consider student retention as part of a fundamental shift in how we do economic development. Universities and learning institutions have attracted these students and it is now up to policymakers and local leaders to leverage that human capital for their communities. These activities cannot be siloed and must be perceived as interrelated.