Industrial parks and cargo cults

Posted on November 2, 2007
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            There are primitive tribes, or recently were, who had little interaction with the modern world. The age of aircraft is not so very old.

            There were instances when planes crashed in remote jungles and, naturally, attracted the attention of the local residents. They were quite pleased by some of the things they found in the wreckage.

            They assumed they were some kind of alien bird or gift from the heavens and tried to attract more. Like migratory bird hunters everywhere, they came up with the idea of setting decoys. They built models of aircraft on the ground hoping to lure other planes down.

            Anthropologists called people who adopted the belief and behaviour “cargo cults.”

            Late 20th century small-town Canadians indulged in somewhat similar behaviour ourselves. Traveling about the country, one cannot help but notice that any town with a population over 5,000 has an industrial park or two.

            Knowing that industry liked cheap serviced land, we created decoy sites all over the continent.

            They worked about as well as the cargo cult decoys.

            Oh, yes, we all lured a few industries to our parks. Some of them were a bit like the birds the cargo cults mistook planes for. Some were fly-by-night. Others were chickens we counted before they hatched and they never really did. There’s not much real industry in most of our parks. Most of what there is is home grown.

            The funny thing is that we kept on building more and more decoys at the same time that we were all talking about the end of industrial era.

            Okay, so here I am, with a cute observation about primitive cargo cults, looking for a moral or a lesson.

            How about this?

            Suppose we try to design our own lure that will appeal to people?

            Was it Izaak Walton, author of “The Compleat Angler,” who said that the successful angler selects his bait according to the tastes of the fish rather than to his own?

            Perhaps we should bait our hooks with quality of life for people rather than with parks for business.

            I golfed this summer with a man whose wife is on Wal-Mart management staff. She’s just been transferred but they’re not selling their house. They intend to retire here some day.

            I hear more and more stories every day about people from all over Canada and the world who are looking for land here. The South Shore of Nova Scotia is gone. Bank presidents bought it all for their retirements years ago. There’s nothing in St. Andrews in winter. We’re looking very attractive.

            Get ready for company.



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