New east partnership urged
June 3, 2013
Conference Atlantic business leaders deliver strong message: Success depends on regional collaboration
HALIFAX – The collaboration of Atlantic Canada’s provinces is now increasingly essential to the region’s success, top business and community leaders heard Thursday.
Atlantic Canadian business leaders are proposing a “new east partnership” for government and enterprise that will redefine the economic goals and potential of the region.
The outcome is a call for provinces to work closer together on common goals, for universities and businesses to co-ordinate and fill marketplace demands, and for the private sector to take a leading role in training the skilled workers the region desperately needs.
The third and final 4Front Atlantic Conference held in Halifax on Thursday culminated with a call to action and steps to build economic activity in the region.
The result follows annual conferences and a series of working groups held by well-known Atlantic Canadian business leaders.
A report card will also be released a year from now to evaluate the initiative’s progress.
“I think this is about creating an opportunity for the energy that exists in Atlantic Canada to be focused,” said BMO Financial Group president and CEO Bill Downe, who attended the conference. “I think to be an entrepreneur or an innovator you have to have the ability to stand on your own, but just think of what you could do if you have the assistance of a few others.
“Knowledge and talent are critical, but collaboration is essential.”
Canada’s Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who delivered a keynote address, told the crowd that Atlantic Canada collectively “has the opportunity to be the education capital of the world.”
Johnston called it “the Atlantic advantage.”
“I’m not sure you know just how good your institutions are,” he said.
He pointed to Mount Allison University’s recently completed $96-million fundraising campaign, a figure he stated as unparalleled when compared per capita across the country.
Mariner Partners Inc. chairman Gerry Pond called for a “Greater Atlantic Area” federated ecosystem of support for startups.
“The term ecosystem is used to describe all the ingredients that are necessary to build a startup community,” Pond said. “We have to create a federated one because we are so distributed – to reach 21?2 million people we need all of Atlantic Canada.
“We need the will to collaborate like we have never collaborated before. I think it will get enough critical mass to create enough startups on a world scale to pull us out of the problem we’re in.”
Irving Oil refining general manager Mark Sherman said Atlantic Canada’s private sector businesses must adopt a “mentoring approaching” to train the necessary workers in order to fill a widening skills gap that threatens the success of the region.
He cited the industry-driven teen apprentice program initiated by Irving Oil Ltd. that was recently launched in New Brunswick to connect high school students with skilled trades in hopes to stem the growing need for trained workers.
Sherman said Thursday that the program needs to expand across Atlantic Canada.
The conference also heard support for a unified immigration policy that aims to widen Atlantic Canada’s talent pool with help from abroad.
Cathy Bennett, president of the Bennett Group of Companies who also sits on the board of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, said that Atlantic governments such as Nova Scotia are actively lobbying the federal government for an increase in immigrant certificate nominations, while Newfoundland and Labrador is lobbying for the status quo.
“It sends very mixed messages to Ottawa as to what the importance of immigration is to Atlantic Canada,” she said.
An action plan, released in advance of the conference, sets out a road map for change that includes a series of six targets for the next five years and an overall call for businesses and governments to work together more readily across the Maritimes and Newfoundland.
The business leaders say Atlantic Canada must act with “a sense of urgency,” and be willing to do things differently in order to tap into the globalization of business around the world.
The document sets out specific targets that include raising the proportion of economic immigration to at least the national share. In 2011, Atlantic Canada took in 4,878 economic immigrants, or 0.21 per cent of its population, compared to the national total of 0.45 per cent.
Without a dense concentration of resources and population in Atlantic Canada, said the report, the region needs to take a uniquely aggressive approach to talent retention and development.
The conference also resulted in calls to better fit business need with post-secondary programs being studied in the region.
The other five recommendations are to double the percentage of small- and medium-sized enterprises doing business globally; increase business research and development and innovation spending to at least the national average; double the number of high technology startups; triple the value of trade exports to emerging economies; and triple the number of interns, co-ops and apprentices in business.
“This has got to be a collective and collaborative effort by everybody,” said BMO Financial Group vice-chairman Kevin Lynch. “We have got to be more ambitious in Atlantic Canada and we all have to figure out how we can help raise ambition.”
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