After years of stagnant population growth, New Brunswick’s population has actually been declining over the last three years. This problem has been well­documented and represents the biggest threat to our province in both the immediate­ and long­term. Bringing in and retaining more immigrants ­ including refugees ­ isn’t a social question, it’s an economic one. It isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all of our problems, but it isn’t optional either ­ it’s required for our survival.

We need to increase our population by about 1% per year in order to keep pace with the country and grow the economy according to economist Richard Saillant. That’s about 7,500 people. Our population has declined for the past three years. Right now we are bringing in around 1,000 per year under the our primary immigration mechanism ­ the Provincial Nominee Program. On average, New Brunswick couples are having 1.6 children. Our economy has been stagnant at best for nearly a decade. We need people. A lot of them.

According to a 2014 Corporate Research Associates survey, ¾ of New Brunswickers think the province would be best served by the same amount or fewer immigrants from other countries. Immigrants are not taking jobs, they are creating them. About 40% of New Brunswick immigrants are entrepreneurs starting businesses, all of which come with a serious up­front
financial investment. 100% of them need to buy food, houses, cars, clothing and everything else that causes the economy to grow ­ which creates more jobs.

We are developing a technology and innovation hub in Fredericton ­ it’s an area that we are having significant success ­ but it’s in jeopardy without skilled workers to fill the jobs created. New Brunswick’s Department of Post­Secondary Education, Training and Labour projects a shortfall of 40,000 workers over the next 10 years. Canada’s Information and Technology Council projects that the country will need 182,000 skilled ICT workers by 2019. We have to understand that New Brunswick is competing with the rest of the country and the rest of the world for new immigrants and we need to do a better job of it. We need them more than they need us.

We also need to get younger. Only Newfoundland and Labrador has an older population than we do. Newcomers are coming with their families, their kids are being integrated into our schools ­ which increases the likelihood they will stay in the long term. New Brunswick may never compete with other provinces with big cities (and even more disproportionately larger immigrant populations), but we have to start somewhere. That means the federal government increasing our annual allotment of newcomers. That means being allowed to hire international students under government summer programs. That means creating more opportunities by developing our natural resources, by attracting more outside investment, by leveraging our knowledge hub. That means being a more welcoming community.
 
The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has two programs to help immigrant entrepreneurs be successful when they arrive. The Business Immigrant Mentorship Program introduces newcomers to Canadian business culture, regulatory regimes, professional services and more. When they are ready to take the next step, they can apply to get into the Hive Incubator which provides office space, connections to the startup community, support from the chamber and our partners and perhaps most importantly a sense that they are not on their own in their new
home.

That we need immigrants to grow the economy while needing the economy to grow to retain immigrants may seem like a Catch­22, but the relationship is more symbiotic. Having more people in itself will grow the economy through consumption alone. Our population and economy can grow together incrementally, but we do need help ­ from all levels of government, from the private sector and from our communities.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment.