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A TCI Book Review

Excelerate - Growing in the New Economy

Nuala Beck
HarperPerennial, Toronto, 1995


This book is a complement to Beck's previous bestseller, Shifting Gears - Thriving in the New Economy. Now that we have shifted gears, according to Beck, it is time to step on the gas of the economy and 'excelerate'. The book is all about the 'New Economy', which she says is comprised of industries that have 'not yet peaked structurally'. In other words, these are industries that are 'underpinned by long-term structural growth'. Left to the reader's imagination is exactly what she is talking about: peaked in what? growth in what? It is never explicitly defined, although the reader gets the sense that these growth prospects relate to either an expanding market due to demographic change (i.e. the baby boomers and their children moving through the life cycle) or are driven by technological change.

A key ingredient making possible this New Economy is what she calls a 'knowledge worker'. This is someone in either of three select occupational categories:

  1. professionals (doctors, engineers, accountants);
  2. engineering, scientific and technical workers; or
  3. senior ranks of management.
Industries characteristic of the New Economy tend to be those with a high proportion of knowledge workers.

The combination of not yet having peaked structurally (whatever that may mean) and having a high proportion of knowledge workers leads her to the following listing of 'five star' growth industries in Canada, which she says are the best bets to work or invest in:

  • software and computer services
  • natural gas distribution systems
  • pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • electric power industry
  • elementary and secondary schools
  • plastics and synthetic resins manufacturing
  • electrical and electronic equipment wholesalers
  • waste management
  • communications equipment
  • community colleges
  • museums and archives
  • optometrists, physiotherapists and other health care professionals
  • universities
  • hospitals
  • medical and dental offices
  • pipeline transportation
  • spectator sports, gambling and recreational facilities

Beck also defines three other broad industry categories: the 'Old Economy' (predictably, industries that have already 'peaked' and are not underpinned by long-term structural growth, and which are not good bets to work or invest in), 'Turnarounds' (industries that 'have peaked structurally', but have some potential to rebound), and the 'Watch List', consisting of industries that are anybody's guess, and which she doesn't attempt to predict.

The book contains four 'mini workshops', which are exercises that a company can go through to determine how well they are positioned vis a vis the New Economy. The first of these assesses which businesses the company is in and whether it is well represented in New Economy businesses. The second essentially guides company management through an analysis of their customer base in order to determine the proportion of sales that comes from New Economy industries (the implication being that if customers are from Old Economy industries, or those on the 'Watch List', they may not be customers too much longer). The third mini workshop helps a company re-orient its marketing plan towards New Economy industries, and the fourth guides companies towards targeting new customers from this sector.

In addition to this advice for individual companies, she also provides in the book what she calls 'road maps' for communities and governments. The essential message for communities: cater to New Economy industries, and make sure that your own operations are up to date. For governments: encourage investment in New Economy industries, provide (or facilitate the provision of ) capital, and re-vamp the educational system to ensure the continuing availability of knowledge workers.

Fully half of the book is occupied by an Appendix which is a detailed analysis of the prospects (for jobs and investment) of 160 industry sectors in Canada, an inventory of all those in the New Economy as well as the Old Economy, the Watch List and the Turnarounds. A second, much smaller, Appendix lists these industry sectors in terms of their 'knowledge intensity'; that is, the proportion of knowledge workers to the total work force in that industry.

The book is a veritable smorgasbord of advice for companies, communities and governments, much of it making good (if common) sense.




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