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Canadian archaeology and the age of austerity

June 5, 2012 2 comments
Canadian maple leaf 2

A withering maple leaf? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an essential tension that exists between industry and government:  they regulate us and sometimes they compete with us.  When you ask many business professionals about government, even in Canada, the usual response is that there is too much of it.

There is truth to this. It seems that the only cap on the growth of bureaucracy is taxpayers, and therefore, recent promises by the Federal and some provincial governments to reduce the size of government seemed at best, too little and too late.  However, while in age of austerity you can really make smart strategic cuts in expenditures, governments are inevitably drawn to the stupid.

The Government of Canada is cutting ten percent off the top of most departments, and a few percentage points more off ones they really don’t like (like the public broadcaster, the CBC). All departments have been asked to declare positions as redundant and thousands of letters have gone out: “your position has been classified as surplus, have a nice day.” This will be followed by a drawn out period of horse trading, interdepartmental moves, and such, with the result that the actual number of positions lost will not be known for some time.

Somewhat to the surprise of the heritage movement, given the federal government attention to promoting the historic battles of 1812, is that government has decided that it really does not like conservators and archaeologists and has decided to close all of the regional labs across the country. As one comment on the Canadian Archaeological Association Facebook page notes “There (will be) more people employed in a single Tim Hortons than are employed by Parks Canada nationally to preserve and care for millions of archeological historic objects in storage and on display.” Read more…

Heritage-only firms must market

April 13, 2012 1 comment

Its list time in Canada, when many of the provincial lists of qualified archaeological firms get updated. Recent articles in Heritage Business Journal have noted a shift in market share away from heritage-only firms. In the draft of the current list of qualified Alberta archaeological consultants there are 27 companies listed: 19 of these were heritage-only firms and 8 were multidisciplinary firms. This listing also suggests that multidisciplinary firms have more staff (average of 2.8 vs. 1.8 for the heritage-only firms). There are three caveats here. First, I sorted the firms on my knowledge of what they do–they are not listed that way. Second, while more heritage-only firms have a single archaeologist, the number of staff on the list is not very consistent. Third, it should be noted that not all the firms on the list are actually in Alberta, in case readers are wondering how a single province supports 27 archaeology firms.

Archaeology, like many environmental services, is a requirement for some development approvals. Developers who do not know how to find an archaeologist are given the list of qualified firms. My hunch is that lists such as the Alberta Consultant’s List form the entire marketing plan for many small heritage-only firms. This raises the question of whether the reported switch to multidisciplinary firms is due to a customer desire for one stop shopping, or whether it is because multidisciplinary firms out-market and out-brand heritage only firms. Read more…

New small business thresholds in North America will change competition

March 13, 2012 1 comment

Last week in the Federal Register, the United States Small Business Administration increased 37 small business size standards for 34 industries in Sector 54, Professional, Technical, and Scientific Services. Under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), used by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, the industry code for Environmental Consulting Services (541620) was increased from $7  to $14 million. The majority of cultural resource consulting firms in North America are in the Environmental Consulting Services category. This change was effective yesterday, 12 March 2012.

Within the United States, many, perhaps the majority, of cultural resource compliance service contracts issued by the federal government are set aside for small businesses. This new, larger, small business size category will change the competitive landscape by allowing firms with annual revenue up to $14 million to compete directly with truly small firms for small business contracts. The American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA), the trade organization for the heritage compliance sector, classifies small firms as those with annual revenue below $400,000, medium firms as those with annual revenue between $400,000 and $1.5 million, and large firms as those having annual revenue above $1.5 million. This new ruling will not provide any protection for truly small heritage firms, those in ACRA’s small and medium categories, and create head-to-head market competition for all firms below the $14 million threshold. For companies who target the federal contracting sector, there is now an advantage to being larger and this may prompt a new round of heritage firm mergers and acquisitions in North America.

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