As the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (AIMS) continues its campaign to rally business and government around the concept of an Atlantic commercial region hub, detractors still try to distract businesses of all sizes from the reality of what Atlantica really is.
A recent article in The Chronicle Herald by Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the institute, focused on what Atlantica is.
Cirtwill astutely pointed out that Atlantica is not a trade agreement or a political union; rather, it is a region that has some amazing possibilities for growth.
Some may be critical of the concept of Atlantica partly because it is heralded as a great opportunity by the institute, which is a right-wing think tank with a no holds barred philosophy when it comes to relying on businesses to solve many of the area’s deeply rooted economic problems.
Clearly, not everyone is pro-business, even when it comes to supporting small business entrepreneurs.
Maybe some of the backlash against the concept of an economic region with greater North-South ties rankles those among us who are relatively anti-American. Perhaps we fear American economic and cultural imperialism.
But if we look past some of these concerns the notion of Atlantica just makes sense: socially, economically and culturally.
To really appreciate what Atlantica is all about it is necessary to go back further than the institute’s campaign. As we dig further we find that it is less about economics and more about the grassroots culture that makes northeastern North America unique.
In the early 1980s, an author named Joel Garreau wrote an interesting book about North America.
The book focused on cultural similarities that went beyond political borders in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. (Garreau is currently an editor at the Washington Post, a consultant, and a senior fellow in the school of public policy at U.S.-based George Mason University.)
In his book, The Nine Nations of North America, Garreau visualized Canada and the United States, not as two sovereign nations, but as a group of nine nations, each characterized by a unique cultural perspective.
Today’s Atlantica was framed in Garreau’s book under the name of New England.
Garreau’s New England shared common beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles.
Today, Atlantic Canada and New England still share those things, as well as a vibrant foundation of small business entrepreneurs.
However, Garreau’s analysis also described his New England region as lacking in self-fulfilment and a sense of accomplishment.
What is it that can lead an entire region to be lacking in economic growth, or unable to attract new opportunities? What can lead a nation to become so risk-aversive that it lets important growth opportunities slip away?
There is little debate that the area dubbed Atlantica has been systematically removed from the north-south highway infrastructure that links Canada and the United States.
Atlantica possesses many attributes that could make it a viable distribution hub, essentially becoming the Atlantic backbone of North America.
Despite a total of 23 border crossings involving truck and train freight, there are no high priority corridors designated within Atlantica.
Canadian Confederation and the emergence of New York City reduced Atlantica, a once-thriving corridor between Halifax and Boston, to a subordinate economic state.
The result has been the economic marginalization of Atlantica to centrally located regions across Canada and the United States.
Atlantic Canada and New England are awakening to the notion that globalized trade can put them on the map despite generations of being systematically removed from the business corridors of North America. And collectively, Atlantic Canada and New England can accomplish things to change that position.
That is what Atlantica is really all about. Atlantica is not just about transportation infrastructure, although that is an important part of it.
It is also about the dynamism and synergy that comes from businesses, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, as they are able to expand as part of a region that shares attitudes, beliefs and business norms.
Economic imperialism? Not really. Cultural imperialism, not at all.
Atlantica is simply an opportunity for Atlantic Canadians and their neighbours to take ownership of what was rightfully theirs in the first place: an opportunity to create economic success in a changing world.
Karen Blotnicky is president of TMC The Marketing Clinic and a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University.