This is the image that we love to show you: so that we can tempt you to visit PEI. Looks so lovely doesn't it. But ....... It is no secret that if you farm and you fish today you can no longer make a good living. We can't rely on this anymore - not even to attract tourists. So what will replace our heritage so that we can not only survive but thrive in the future?
We have chosen to go beyond using nature to learning how to work with her. This post will tell you why and what.
Firstly, why does using Nature no longer work for us. We are small and if you are small and you produce a commodity, you lose. If you produce a commodity, you are today a price taker. All the power is in the huge global distribution system. If you are small it's worse. There are farms in Idaho that have more production than all our potato acreage. There are single pig barns in South Carolina that have more pigs on that one farm an on the entire Island.
We cannot hope to farm like we do and fish like we do and pay the bills for supporting our society.
So what are we going to do on PEI? How are we going to remain viable? How are we going to become self sufficient?
One of the choices that we have made is that we are going to work to become independent from Big Energy. The other choice is that we are going to work with Nature to help Nature.
While many will still farm in some way (More on that later), a group of people have got together on a mission. They are working with Nature. Their focus is on exploring the inner workings of nature so that we can discover and develop natural applications that will help human, animal, plant and fish health.
I can feel your immediate cynicism. How on earth can a tiny rural backwater like PEI with a population of 140,000 have a chance to become a renowned centre of Science? Hey Rob, look at the competition in places such as Singapore where Biopolis has over $2 billion worth of infrastructure and China as a market next door.
But my friends, this is not another De Lorean type of Atlantic Canadian Boondoggle "Get Rich Quick on the Grant Money" story.
You don't believe me? Read on and judge for yourself
Like many good stories, this one began long ago in 1997 at a dinner with a few friends and a napkin.
Our host was Rory Francis (with his niece), who then was the Deputy Minister for Agriculture. We had just come from a meeting at the Veterinary College and we were remarking at how odd it was that we had so many research centres all within a city block.
There was the Vet College, the Food Tech Centre, the main campus of UPEI, the Federal Research Centre and the Province's own research centre.
All were involved in supporting our farming and fishing business. We had good scientists doing good science all around us. But each centre was separate and each centre was on its own and small.
I can't remember who said it first, or how many drinks that we had had, but someone said "That's a lot of centres. What if we make a network out of this - imagine what we could do?" Then another said "What if we could find a way of harnessing all this power in one direction?" Then we all began to wonder. "How could we do this?"
Our starting point then was that we had a legitimate and well resourced scientific foundation that knew a lot about animals, fish and plants. Could we get it all to work together and on what?
We called this early idea of somehow pulling this together - "Belvedere" - after the road that runs along the left hand side of the picture. For a couple of years we talked and talked about how to pull this off. Little knowing that all good ideas have to cook and have to have the optimal leadership.
Then Rory was reassigned to become the Deputy for Health and for a while all that was left was a nagging sense that there was something here but that we had not been able to see it clearly enough to give it life.
Some years passed and UPEI got a new President who has a passion for getting things done and who knows how to get the support both political and financial to make his dreams come true. He saw clearly and early that in the real new economy, the Mill at the centre of the local economy might well be the University.
His name is Wade MacLauchlan. Here he is kayaking off the PEI shore. Since he has become President, UPEI has been transformed. He also saw that research on its own would not be enough. The real value would be a way to find a way of taking good ideas from research and making them into a business opportunity.
Here PEI is again lucky. Regis Duffy was a long time and respected member of the faculty who had left both the church and the University and had become one of the Islands most successful and respected Chemical Engineering Entrepreneurs. He also happens to be the Chairman of the UPEI board of governors and has both feet well planted in business and academia.
We had the Champions. The government came back with the active agent.
What we learned in Belvedere is that if you want to start a real community where all partners trust each other - it helps - no maybe it's essential, to have a person who hosts/facilitates the establishment and then growth of the community. This person must have no axe to grind. This person has to have the trust of all parties. This person cannot be a principal.
This person's job has to to establish and sustain the kind of Trusted Space where trust and innovation are the products. For it is only in this kind of climate that Nature will help you grow a sustainable enterprise.
The person that was asked to do this job was - you guessed it - Rory. An important part of the design was that now Rory was not serving a key component, PEI's agriculture, but serving all of PEI. Most of all, his job was to serve the partners who are made up of all the research folks on PEI, all the relevant businesses and all the key government departments. He had to find a way of melding three completely different cultures into an entity that could contain their differences and yet have them work well with each other.
The PEI BioAlliance is this kind of Facilitating Structure that I believe will be the key to all efforts to bring a diverse network into life behind a common goal. The key success factors are Trust and Focus and such a structure drives both.
Some metrics now. They are rough but give you a sense of our trajectory. In 1997, when we thought of Belvedere, there were 100 Private sector folks involved in Bio and Chemical products and about 150 in research. That is why we had some early confidence that we had a base in 1997.
By 2007, we have about 500 in the private sector and 250 in research. That is some growth. I think that we have reached that point on the Tipping Point where we have broken through.
Is That enough?
I am convinced that if you want to have a diverse network working on a focus that having such an organization is essential but I am not sure that structure is enough. PEI has a number of preconditions for why I think that we have a great shot at this and for why we have made so much progress so far.
I seek to answer WHY PEI?
I think that PEI itself is a large scale Trusted Space. Everyone knows everyone here. That sure doesn't mean that we all like each other or that we are all the same. But you can get all the players into one room in one day and get a decision. We have our share of bureaucracy but you can get through it fast. This is still a society that is based on personal reputation and on word of mouth. Most Islanders have known each other all their lives. Many are related. But it is not a closed shop. I will never be an Islander, you have to be born here to qualify, but I can see anyone I need to in a day or two and get a good hearing. Try that in Ontario!
We know that we are in trouble and this is not some academic issue for Islanders. If you meet with senior folks in any field here, all their kids go to the same schools. All want their kids to have a future. We all want to do what is best. No one here has a free ride. So we have chosen to give the sector a 10 year tax Holiday. We are serious for the long term. That is not the case in many jurisdictions.
We have chosen a focus. We could not get there with Belvedere but we have it now. A focus drives creativity and results. We are clear. We seek to find and amplify the value of Bio Active Compounds to aid human, animal, fish and plant health.
We have chosen a focus for where we want to be on the life cycle as well. We know only too well what it is like to be a price taker of commodities. We also understand that we are small. We want to be price setters and so this is where we will play.
This is the part of the life cycle that we have to stay in. We have to be in that place of exploration and discovery and we have to hand off the larger development and mass production to those that have the scale to do that.
We also are riding a new lifestyle trend that I am going to write more on soon. Not long ago, if you were a scientist or a business person who wanted to be taken seriously, you would have had to have lived in a big urban centre. A new aspect of post industrial life is that you can be a player today and live in a place like PEI. Provided you have yourself a pioneer frame of mind and we on PEI work hard to make you feel welcome. Many wonderful scientists and business people are choosing to come here for a great working environment with great colleagues, great work and opportunity and great infrastructure. In addition we offer a great way of life. More on that later.
Lastly we are engaged here in The Great Work as well as great work. We are working to find a new relationship with nature in the hope that if we respect her, she may open up not only more value but a better world. I will introduce you soon to some of the people who have chosen to come here to be part of that Great Work.
We work directly here to give our kids their best shot that we can of a world that they can prosper in. We work for "Our Country" because on PEI that is what it feels like - we work in the end for each other and for all our future.
It is no game but it is fun. This is why I am convinced that, if you may be reading this in 2014, you may see that I was right - we can do this and we will.