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The Roundup: Nigerian lessons on lax infrastructure

Want to see what economists are talking about when they stress infrastructure modernization as a critical building building block for Canada's future prosperity? Try looking at places where the infrastructure has lapsed into such a state of disrepair that it is holding the economic potential of a country's people hostage. Try looking at Nigeria.

A recent World Bank report draws attention to the woefully inadequate and unreliable state of Africa's biggest economy's crumbling mess of an electrical power system. The oil-rich country has 170 million inhabitants, yet it generates roughly half as much electricity as Newfoundland and Labrador (population 527,000). Nigeria's power demand is almost double the grid's capacity. It suffers blackouts 320 days a year, and half the population has no electricity at all.

The outages – which hit Nigerian businesses to the tune of 239 hours a month – are costing the country 7 per cent in lost sales, the World Bank estimates. Companies are also turning to generating their own power to get around the inadequate and unreliable grid, an expensive option that diverts resources from more productive uses.

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A Wall Street Journal report this week noted that Nigeria's government, which hasn't built nearly enough power plants and hasn't adequately invested in upkeeping and upgrading its existing ones, is now looking to the private sector to clean up its mess. It has sold six power plants (half of the country's total) to wealthy business moguls, who intend to invest in the facilities to improve and expand their output. The goal is to increase electrical capacity to 25,000 megawatts – nearly a seven-fold increase – by 2020.

Black gold. Fort Mac fortune.

Wondering if you should pack up the minivan, move to Alberta and join the oil biz? I can give you 130,000 good reasons.

An annual global survey by Hays plc, a recruiting firm specializing in the oil and gas industry, found that the average 2013 salary in the sector in Canada was $130,000 (U.S.) for domestic hires (as opposed to imported workers) – second only to Norway's $179,000. Canada's figure was almost double the global average of $69,000. (The survey covered 24,000 respondents in 53 countries.)

However, Hays noted that both Canadian and global oil and gas salaries were stagnant last year – with the Canadian average essentially flat and the global average slipping 1 per cent. It attributed the global slowdown to a general pause after two years of strong gains, including an average 5-per-cent rise in 2012. In Canada, it cited transportation bottlenecks, which "caused jitters in prices and shook investor confidence," as the key factor in the wage slowdown.

Wanted: Young farmers

Or, you could become a farmer. If any industry suffers from an aging workforce and a looming worker shortage, it's this one.

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A joint initiative of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Food Tank, aimed at encouraging more youth and women to get into the agriculture business, noted that half the farmers in the United States are more than 55 years old. Statistics Canada data (from the 2011 census) show a similar figure (48.3 per cent) in Canada. Only 8 per cent of Canada's farmers are under 35 – a far cry from Europe, where one-third of farmers are under 35.

But if you are a young farmer looking to succeed in the business, your chances are much better, it seems, if one of those oldsters is nearby. Statscan reported that average gross receipts for farmers under 35 in 2011 were $205,000 – but for under-35 farmers whose farms were adjacent to those of older operators, the average was $450,000.

Not wanted: Disgruntled Amazon workers

Or, you could be paid not to work. In a recent letter to shareholders, Inc. CEO Jeffrey Bezos outlined a company program that, once a year, offers employees up to $5,000 to quit their jobs. The idea is to prompt unmotivated workers to think about whether they actually want to be at Amazon, and if they hate their jobs, give them incentive to leave. "In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don't want to be isn't healthy for the employee or the company," he said.

On wealth distribution and income inequality, Elizabethan-style

"Money is like muck, not good except it be spread." – Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

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About the Author
Economics Reporter

David Parkinson has been covering business and financial markets since 1990, and has been with The Globe and Mail since 2000. A Calgary native, he received a Southam Fellowship from the University of Toronto in 1999-2000, studying international political economics. More


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