In Brief: A talk by AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley to the Maine Citizens’ Trade Committee of the State Legislature is the basis of this feature in the New Brunswick Business Journal. It uses the example of 19th century Chicago to show how economic development can make N.B. prosperous.

FREDERICTON – The divergent histories of two cities in the American Midwest may hold clues for what New Brunswick and the region must do to ensure future economic growth.

In the middle of the 19th century, St. Louis, Mo., rejected the potential of the railway and withered, while Chicago, Ill., embraced the railway and prospered, says Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“In another time and another era, St. Louis and Chicago made different decisions about being connected or not connected to the emerging global networks, with huge consequences for each of them,” Crowley told the Maine Citizens’ Trade Committee of the State Legislature in Augusta, Me., in an address this summer.

St. Louis was happy with what it had, Crowley said, but Chicago saw an opportunity to put itself on the network of rail lines, and benefit from the projected boom in trade.

“We in this region are faced with a similar choice with similar far-reaching consequences,” Crowley said. “We can put ourselves on the network, or not. What is perfectly clear is that no one will do it for us. We must choose to make this happen.”

In an interview Thursday, Crowley elaborated on the speech, stating the Maritimes and New England have an opportunity to grab a share of the projected boom in transatlantic trade between Asia and North America.

Experts have predicted a steady increase in global trade could lead to a doubling of shipments to North America over the next 15 years, from approximately 50 million containers annually to 100 million.

It is estimated that every container unloaded from Asia and sent on its way to customers in North America generates $1,000 worth of economic activity, Crowley said. A million more containers a year would therefore mean $1 billion annually injected into the local economy.

The key to luring traffic to the region is surprisingly simple, Crowley said.

We need improve truck and intercontinental shipping service, Crowley said, and build better rail and road links from southern New Brunswick to Maine and the rest of New England.

Crowley recommended greater co-operation between all levels of government, to harmonize regulations across jurisdictions, provinces, states, and Canada and the United States.

For example, train lines need to have the same carrying capacity and highways the same load-limit, for shipping to be efficient as possible, Crowley said.

Harmonizing transportation policy is expected to be a top issue at Monday and Tuesday’s meetings between New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Premier Shawn Graham said Friday he will push to have weight restrictions on the busy I-95 that runs through Maine reduced.

Graham described the current limits as a burden on Maritime truckers, which push heavy loads onto side roads.

With the twinning of Route 1 between Saint John and Maine approaching completion, Crowley said much of the upgrades necessary to accommodate the increased traffic are already in place in the Maritimes.

But in Maine and other portions of New England, much remains to be done.

“A lot of the stuff that needs to happen needs to happen on the other side of the border,” said Crowley.

Crowley said Cianbro Cos.’s proposed $1-billion east-west highway through Maine, along with improved rail lines, would go a long way towards streamlining transportation in the region.

Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Cos., has promoted the construction of a privately-funded east to west highway through Maine that would cut costs for transporting goods, be a major boost to the Atlantic Gateway concept and benefit industry on both sides of the border.

To those skeptical such developments would only reinforce New Brunswick’s reputation as a drive-through province, Crowley countered there is ample opportunity for economic benefit if private enterprise takes advantage.

“The gateway that we are envisaging today is one that doesn’t just generate cargo, or containers that we wave at as they pass through on their way to final customers,” Crowley said.

Instead, it would create tax revenues, infrastructure improvements, and new sources of labour and capital.

“It’s like many things. What it does is it creates an opportunity,” said Crowley.

“If Atlantic Canadians – including New Brunswick – are able to bring (trade) to our doorstep, there is lots of potential to add value between when it’s shipped from China and when it arrives at its final destination.”

– with files from Quentin Casey and David Shipley