COVID-19 and its impact, coupled with a new strategic plan, has reset our course for the future with an eye towards doing our part to close the prosperity gap between New Brunswick and the rest of Canada.

In laying out the vision for the future, five strategic objectives were identified as keys to the province’s long-term economic growth. One of those objectives is increasing immigration and repatriation.

“Growing our population base is essential to addressing the workforce of the future, notes ONB CEO Sadie Perron. “Along with increasing private sector investment, improving productivity, and growing our exports, immigration and repatriation will be key to the province’s long-term growth.”

We sat down with ONB’s Interim CEO to get her thoughts on the importance of population growth, and how it is key to enabling ONB’s other priority areas.

ONB: New Brunswick has an ambitious population growth strategy. What opportunities do you see for business?

Sadie Perron: To increase private sector investment and grow the provincial economy, our companies need access to a strong skilled labour pool – it’s that simple. If we can attract even more talented newcomers, and retain our high school and post-secondary graduates we will go a long way towards ensuring our businesses have the talent they need to thrive, today, and into the future.

That means we need to bring even more New Brunswickers home, retain more of our local and international students, and be aggressive in attracting newcomers to the province. Like any jurisdiction serious about growth, increased immigration and retention is the best way to ensure existing businesses will flourish. Failure to get serious about population growth means we will not be able to attract new investment; we simply will not have a value proposition for new companies. Our track record has proven we have a compelling value proposition for attracting new investment. We need to keep it that way and build upon it.

How do we all work together to ensure the skills of newcomers line up with the needs of our businesses?

ONB’s primary focus is on growing New Brunswick businesses and attracting new ones to the province. In conversations with current and prospective clients, it becomes apparent that one of their most pressing challenges is access to talent. This is not a challenge unique to New Brunswick. What is unique however is the proactive and client-centric approach we take to meeting this need.

What ONB does is connect government resources to meet employer needs. By working with our partners at Post-Secondary, Education, Training and Labour (PETL), we can be certain that they understand the labour demand from businesses, both inside the province and from the investment attraction side. PETL ensures we are effectively tapping into our existing talent pools – new graduates, international students, and any other New Brunswickers looking for a new opportunity. Then we work with immigration to address any gaps that remain. It really is a whole of government effort. Our municipal economic development groups and multicultural associations have a role to play too. It’s vital they continue to ensure that newcomers are welcomed and can hit the ground running in their communities.

Ultimately, it’s the employers who will get us where we need to be. That’s why I think it’s vital that our companies share their success stories. Tell us and their fellow business leaders how they have successfully onboarded newcomers. How they have prepared their work environment and existing employees to welcome newcomers into their business and into their community. We want it known that New Brunswick offers an inclusive and diverse workforce. That’s a powerful story to tell in terms of helping us move the growth of all our businesses forward and further strengthen our investment attraction efforts.

What strategies would you recommend for New Brunswick companies looking to attract talented newcomers?

Focus on a great onboarding experience and creating an inclusive and welcoming company culture. We put a strong focus on both of those things at ONB, and it’s worked out well for us. The word begins to spread that you are a great place to work and that means more top talent will flock to your door. Creating a company that manages to achieve its growth targets without sacrificing employee satisfaction is key.

New Brunswick has seen phenomenal growth over the summer, and that is tied directly to our successful handling of the pandemic. It’s not enough for ONB to tout these accomplishments alone, our companies should too. We live in a safe, secure part of the world, our quality of life is incredible, the cost of doing business here is low, and the business community is close-knit. Brag about that. The more people know what a great place New Brunswick is to live and work, the stronger our talent pipeline will be.

What excites you most about New Brunswick’s future?

Keeping our young people here excites me for sure, as it provides our companies more opportunity to scale up. If we commit to effectively communicating with our young people about the great career opportunities right here at home, I think many more will choose to stay. Employers need to stay active in our schools and promote the career opportunities that exist here at home.

International students and the movement we’ve had is also exciting. Two years ago, we had a target of retaining 200 international students. We are going to reach 500 for 2020 and there is potential for even more next year. These students are already here, they know the language and culture, and they already have established networks. Connecting these students with ONB clients and helping them stay in New Brunswick is an exciting initiative.

Finally, I’d say the alignment I’m seeing now between government departments, Crown corporations, and the private sector is exciting. I’ve been in the economic development world for 30 years now, and I’ve never seen so many groups working so well towards a common goal – in this case closing the gap via this pro-growth plan. It’s been a tough year, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on everyone and, dealing with it continues to be a priority. I must say, however, that I’m impressed at how the business community across the province has responded to it. We have a great team at ONB with a private-sector board that understands what our businesses are going through. I look forward to continuing our work with these companies as we recover from 2020 and build a new New Brunswick throughout 2021 and beyond.

In the coming weeks, ONB will continue to tell the stories of companies already at work building that new New Brunswick we envision.

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