In January 2020, your government unveiled a new 10- to 20-year vision for a renewed Economic Strategy: Closing the Gap in One Generation, which aims to close the prosperity gap between New Brunswick and the rest of Canada. It was the culmination of a series of engagements with the private sector to identify how to close the economic gap that exists between New Brunswick and the rest of the country. Experts from around the province, around the country and the world were engaged to identify ways our province could compete more effectively. Advisors from academia, business and technology were consulted, as were economists, municipal leaders, sector groups and other business leaders.
These consultations identified specific challenges facing New Brunswick’s economy, including: a lack of scale and economic integration required to compete in an evolving economic landscape, the rural/urban – north/south mindset that hampers growth potential, slow technology adoption and business investment, and changes in global market conditions and environmental concerns facing our traditional resource-based industries.
While much has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our vision for a better economic future should not. To address these challenges, five strategic objectives were identified:
First, New Brunswick must increase private sector investment. Over the last decade, New Brunswick has largely relied on the public sector for economic growth. Job growth, investment and real GDP growth have all been largely supported by the public sector. This is not sustainable, and it will not lead to positive economic results. After an extended period of weakness, private investment has shown improvement in recent years with 2018 hitting a 10-year high. At the same time, we have returned public sector investment to a sustainable level. The realities of COVID-19 have impacted these levels and will continue to challenge our near-term success, but government remains committed to this long-term strategic objective.
New Brunswick must also increase productivity. Closing the gap between New Brunswick and the rest of the Atlantic region would be the equivalent of adding nearly $3 billion to the New Brunswick economy. Every dollar in increased productivity would lead to $636 million in increased economic activity in New Brunswick - that’s without the creation of any new jobs.
Next, New Brunswick will diversify and grow exports. Nationally 5 per cent of companies export, while in New Brunswick it’s 3 per cent. New Brunswick exports are very much commodity-based at the moment and this makes us vulnerable to economic shifts.
Your government will also increase immigration and repatriation to grow the population base. Approximately 120,000 jobs will be available over the next decade. Bringing New Brunswickers home and attracting newcomers to address this gap will be essential.
Together with increasing private sector investment, increasing productivity, diversifying and growing exports, and increasing immigration and repatriation New Brunswick will create the foundation for economic recovery and growth which will culminate in an increase in GDP.
The strategy is taking hold. Under a renewed mandate, Opportunities New Brunswick is supporting businesses across the province to adopt new technologies for productivity and embrace digital connections to international markets.
Manufacturers are embracing technology in new ways. Waska Cedar Shingles in Clair has invested in building the world’s first fully-automated cedar shingle manufacturing facility. This has resulted in lower production costs, reduced energy usage, enhanced efficiency, and most importantly, a significant improvement in employee safety. Automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are fundamental pathways to addressing looming demographic and labour force challenges.
Bouctouche Bay Industries is a COVID-19 success story – an aquaculture company that worked with Dalhousie University to pivot to produce Health Canada Approved Class 1 PPE face shields. Based on a design from Dalhousie, the company was able to quickly retool and begin production thanks to a partnership with Sure Grip Hand Controls in Upper Kingsclear.
To support the attraction of private investment, new talent and diversified trade and exports, Opportunities New Brunswick is partnering with the Indo-Canadian Business Chamber (ICBC). ICBC works to strengthen and promote trade, commerce, and economic opportunities between India and Canada. The province is working to build on its track record of attracting India-based companies to New Brunswick. HCL Technologies Inc., Tech Mahindra, Aditya Birla Group and Sedin Technologies are examples of world-leading companies that now have operations in the province. Many of these companies have also relocated skilled workers, supporting overall population growth initiatives.
Your government’s Economic Growth and Action Plan also identifies a new province-wide digital broadband connectivity initiative to accelerate universal access and improve speeds. This has become all the more essential to deliver online education, virtual health and to attract remote workers.
Investment in digital broadband connectivity will support your government’s work to build emerging sectors for long-term economic prosperity in cybersecurity, energy innovation, and digital health. By being focused on emerging sectors, the province will attract new foreign investment, build on local expertise, and grow employment opportunities.
One of these emerging sectors is energy innovation. Energy as we know it is shifting to more renewables and non-emitting technologies. Your government has a vision that New Brunswick can develop technology that will put our province – and our entire country – back on the map as a global emissions reduction leader.
Small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) have tremendous potential to generate safe, clean and low-cost energy for both on-grid and off-grid communities. If New Brunswick can develop advanced SMRs right here at home and achieve just 1 per cent of the estimated Canadian market, it would mean $190 million in annual direct and indirect impacts to New Brunswick. The province has an under-utilized supply chain that, if activated as part of this strategy, could participate in a worldwide SMR market and bring that revenue back to New Brunswick.
Energizing the private sector will also involve growing Indigenous participation in the economy by supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses, encouraging partnerships, and understanding and addressing employment challenges to increase labour market participation.
While your government looks long-term, it must also protect and support existing pillars of our economy. Tourism typically employs between 30,000 and 40,000 New Brunswickers and contributes more than $520 million to the provincial GDP every year. The industry has risen to the challenge, demonstrating the customary grace and grit that New Brunswickers are known for. In every corner of the province, entrepreneurial ideas have taken shape. Your government applauds and thanks those steadfast and persevering visionaries and small business owners.
The Explore NB travel incentive program government introduced this summer with the support of industry advisors has been heralded by tourism associations across the country and spurred real results; generating over $17 million in spending in just two and a half months.
That’s why your government has committed to reoffering it in the weeks to come. Your government will continue to encourage entrepreneurial and innovative thinking to strengthen our tourism sector, even in the face of a global pandemic and reduced travel, so that when the world begins to right itself and people start exploring again, New Brunswick will be ready – to deliver world-class experiences, host with pride and claim the title of most sought-after destination in Canada.