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Consulting engineers must diversify: Griffiths

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by LINDSEY COLE

Rudyard Griffiths opened his keynote address reciting an old Chinese curse, “I wish that you may live in interesting times.”
Rudyard Griffiths, a CBC commentator, author and expert on various topics such as economics and politics, was a keynote speaker during the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Canada 2015 Leadership Summit in Niagara Falls, Ont. He spoke about global economic trends and factors that are and could influence the Canadian economy.
Rudyard Griffiths, a CBC commentator, author and expert on various topics such as economics and politics, was a keynote speaker during the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Canada 2015 Leadership Summit in Niagara Falls, Ont. He spoke about global economic trends and factors that are and could influence the Canadian economy. - Photo: LINDSEY COLE

"I think that we're at one of those moments right now," the CBC business commentator, author and expert on economics and politics told attendees during the recent Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Canada (ACEC) 2015 leadership summit in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Griffiths spoke about global economic trends, how the perception of world leaders like the United States and China is changing as the economy continues to shift.

From an industry standpoint, he also suggested ways the consulting engineering community can benefit from diversifying into new markets across the globe and how the federal government needs to loosen its purse strings in order to capitalize on low interest rates.

"There's something funny that's happening in our political culture. Everyone (federal party leaders) has to come out with balanced budgets, that's not the way economic theory works," he said.

"You have to have growth before you can do anything."

While he acknowledged the federal government's investments in infrastructure aren't insignificant, he added that in this uncertain economic climate, more action is needed.

"Some would say we should engage in some deficit financing at a moment when we can borrow at historically low rates to build out the infrastructure we're going to need for the coming century. Those low rates are not going to remain forever," he explained.

"The federal government's balance sheet is very strong. There is more opportunity for the federal government to take a long-term view on infrastructure investment and say we're going to assume more debt, but at historically low interest rates...to build out the rail, roads, hydro, transit. You can go through the list infrastructure needs that are urgent right now, let's get to work on them."

And while the big players like China appear to be on a downshift and there is an "American retreat from the globe," Griffiths added there are still opportunities to reach out to emerging markets.

He referred to the concept of pivot nations, a 'G-zero' world, where "no single nation or alliance is capable of driving the global agenda anymore," he stated.

Having the power to pivot means developing multiple alliances, markets and opportunities. Canada is already showing signs that it could benefit from being one of these nations.

"Canada meets this criteria because we have, over the last really 10 years, again diversified in international exports," he said.

"We are no longer anywhere near as dependent as we once were on U.S. trade. Canada needs to have the power to pivot."

This concept can be applied to the consulting engineering community, he said, suggesting they "think global. The future growth is going to be through creating opportunities to sell products and services into these so-called pivot nations."

Griffiths, however, did acknowledge it's an idea that may take some warming up to.

"It's always traditionally been challenging for Canadian companies to go beyond the immediate opportunities of the United States to other jurisdictions," he said.

"We are starting to do that. We're lessening our dependence on U.S. bilateral trade, and some of our engineering companies have really been pioneers by going abroad, and in some cases going into emerging markets and developing economies and doing business."

Follow Lindsey Cole on Twitter @DCN_Lindsey.

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