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New Brunswick, Canada: The Wired Province

By Howard Rheingold

Innovation and entrepreneurship in a networked world is no longer the exclusive product of a few metropolitan centers. The center of innovation now is anywhere you can find a good connection to the Internet. Look for next-generation visionaries in places far from the traditional centers of wealth and power. I have seen for myself how the province of New Brunswick, Canada, and the prefecture of Oita, Japan, have one crucial common feature in their visions of the future. In both places, each far from traditional urban centers, each with traditional dependence on natural-resource based industries, political leaders have begun to use the Net to shift employment from smokestack industries to knowledge-based industries.

Encouraged by local government and business, old communties are shifting to remote training and education, software development, virtual reality development, telephone support services to replace declining fisheries and pulp factories.

When I travelled to Kyushu a few years ago, I met Morihiko Hiramatsu, the Governor of rural/maritime Oita prefecture. Hiramatsu was the first regional leader in the world to use government resources to give each village and city in his prefecture a free local link to the Net. More recently, Hiramatsu has persuaded Japanese telecommunication industries to install very high capacity networks to citizens. People whose parents worked in lumber mills and fishing boats are creating a new local economy in Oita, by means of the worldwide communications network.

A pattern began to emerge when I saw for myself what is going on in the rural/maritime province of New Brunswick. For several years, the popular Premier of the province, Frank McKenna, has encouraged and persuaded private sector institutions such as NBTel, the provincial communication company, IBM, and others, to install very high-capacity fiber optic communications networks throughout the province. The first payoffs are beginning to emerge. People whose parents worked in lumber mills and fishing boats have been encouraged to create a new economy in New Brunswick, by means of the worldwide communications network.

Don Whitty, Department Head, Learning Technologies, at New Brunswick Community College, trains teams of college entrepreneurs who learn by creating computer game software and developing training courseware. The Learning Technologies Center at Miramichi was funded in this city of twenty thousand by $14 million contributed by national and provincial governments and mostly by private industry.

"We've done away with traditional grading and curriculum," was one of the first things Whitty told me. "We encourage designers, engineers, and programmer, to team up with marketers, and to create a product design and a business plan. Their project is evaluated by an industry team, using current commercial criteria." The abundant industry assistance and governmental encouragement of the Learning Technologies Center is the educational component of a plan to juice up New Brunswick's economy by growing information-age businesses.

Mike MacIntosh, a mid level official in the provincial government, told me "Software training services, distance education, game software development, are industries in which local talent is capable of competing on world markets." Building an educated local work force is the foundation of the plan. Another part of the plan is to encourage local access throughout the province to high capacity networks, then draw companies from elsewhere in Canada and the world to test projects that require highly wired populations. From what I saw and heard in Miramichi, they have a running start on the future by encouraging the dreams of young minds, their most valuable local resource.

You can find out more about Miramichi's Learning Technologies program from Don Whitty.

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Copyright 1995, Howard Rheingold