– By Morgan Peters
Population growth. Workforce expansion. Labour market development. However you frame it, Fredericton (and New Brunswick) needs more people if we are going to be a sustainable province for future generations. The province is aging and our growth has been mostly flat for a decade – and it comes down to simple economics.
Immigration isn’t the only solution to our demographic problems and a strong economy is a pre-requisite for retaining substantial numbers, but it must be the centrepiece of any long-term population growth plan. This month, Fredericton took an aggressive step forward in our quest for growth with the launch of a new immigration strategy.
The Fredericton chamber first became formally involved in the immigration sphere with the launch of the Business Immigrant Mentorship Program in 2009. That program was focused on the introduction of newcomers to local business people as mentors and instructors – helping to bridge the gap that existed between doing business in Canada and their home countries. This model has since been rolled out across New Brunswick and in several other western provinces.
In 2014 we rolled out Phase 2, with the Hive Incubator. This immersive business environment provided our city’s entrepreneurial newcomers office space and access to valuable resources – most importantly the other business people in the ecosystem. It has been near or at capacity since it opened.
In 2016, we added Succession Connect – a program with a mandate to match newcomers and existing business owners. In short, the program worked to connect existing ‘for sale’ businesses with newcomer entrepreneurs looking to buy.
During the time we were running these entrepreneurial programs, many other groups in the community were also doing great work supporting our newest citizens – these include Ignite Fredericton, the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, our post-secondary institutions, the Multicultural Council of NB, and many more. We were having success and doing some good work together, the local population has been rising but it became clear it wasn’t going to be enough. We at the chamber of commerce, nor our partners, nor the City of Fredericton are content with being sustainable if that just means the status quo – hence a new coordinated strategy.
With that context, here’s what the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is doing. We are handing off the three programs I’ve mentioned to the stewardship of Ignite Fredericton, while increasing our advocacy role with all three levels of governments on issues relating to entrepreneurial immigrants as well as maintaining our role as a key connector for newcomers to the business community.
The three programs are in essence economic development programs that will now be even more integrated into the city’s larger immigration and growth plans through being part of the Ignite Fredericton portfolio and, of course – providing an even better service to the clients for which these programs were created and designed – our newcomer entrepreneurs. From the chamber’s perspective, we are focused on our members and nothing will help them more than a proper alignment of resources leading to growth. We know the programs are in good hands with Ignite and at the end of the day, the programs don’t belong to the Chamber or Ignite – they belong to the clients. The immigration strategy itself is another great example of the forward-thinking collaboration our community is known for. The stakeholders have been involved with its creation every step of the way and we at the chamber are ready to do our part – our community is counting on it.