Knowledge is key to B.C.'s economy: report

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

UBC Commerce Prof. Michael Goldberg says the expansion of knowledge-based industries and tourism is the keystone to pulling B.C. out of its current economic turmoil.

"I have no doubt that British Columbia has a very rosy future and can compete globally," Goldberg says. "But people have to stop hoping that resource prices will rise and their jobs will return."

Goldberg's views are presented in a discussion paper recently released by the Business Council of British Columbia. Called The British Columbia Economy into the Millennium: Perspectives and Possibilities, the paper proposes new opportunities for moving the B.C. economy forward.

All industries now are knowledge-based, says Goldberg, making investing in people and ideas essential to transforming the provincial economy.

"In making goods today the primary input is technical knowledge and know-how rather than physical input," Goldberg says. "In forestry, for example, the fibre is relatively less important than the technical knowledge needed to harvest it and sell it globally."

Eighty per cent of Canada's workforce is involved in producing and providing services, he says. That includes everything from information technology, education, financial markets, the media, entertainment, travel and tourism to the scheduling and tracking of the transportation of lumber and other resources.

A study by the B.C. Technology Industries Association indicates that 57,000 people now work in computer, engineering, scientific and related services in the province with revenue of $7.5 billion in 1997.

"Lifelong learning is not an option - it's a necessity," he says. "As a society we must invest in the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and analytical power if we are to succeed."

While B.C. continues to attract students from abroad seeking educational opportunities in the province, it has to do a better job educating its own, Goldberg says.

With one of the highest drop-out rates in Canada, and 70 per cent of B.C. students failing to go on to post-secondary education, the province has an enormous challenge for the future, he says.

In addition to their role in helping to educate B.C.'s future citizens, UBC and other post-secondary institutions create opportunities for knowledge-based manufacturing, according to the report.

Through its University-Industry Liaison Office, UBC has played a role in investing more than $10 million to foster 71 spin-off companies. Bringing UBC technology to market has helped create thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars more in investment, Goldberg says.

Tourism is another burgeoning area.

The phenomenal growth of Whistler, the convention and cruise ship industries demonstrate a strong future for high-value tourism, the report says.

The B. C. economy of the future will continue to have a strong resource sector, says Goldberg, but industries need to capitalize on their market advantages.

Goldberg says the province could develop a strong niche market for a premium brand of B.C. lumber based on strength, straightness, absence of knots and packaging which exceeds any existing standards.

"When you know what the customer wants you can give it to them and raise the price," he says. "That's what Gucci does. That's innovation."