Good evening ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames and Messieurs,
On behalf of our one thousand member businesses and organizations I’d like to welcome you to the 2020 State of the Province Address. A huge thank you to all of our sponsors without whom this event would not be possible, and of course, thank you to you, our guests… and to our guest of honour… the Hon. Blaine Higgs – Premier of the Province of NB. I’d also like to express a huge thank you to ‘Team Chamber’ for their work in putting on this great event and in particular – our Event Manager Extraordinaire – Tanya Senechal.
This is one of my favourite nights of the year. Not only does it give us a chance to connect with new people and reconnect with old friends and colleagues, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on where we are as a province and how best to move forward together.
Obviously not everyone is going to agree with every decision made by government at all levels, but we should try to remember that we are all in this together. It can be easy to let individual priorities or politics get in the way of progress. The more we can work together, help each other connect on opportunities, be inclusive, and raise the level of public discourse – the better off we’ll all be in the long run.
In 2020, the top concerns of our members are consistent with what we have been hearing from other chambers across our region and from our members in previous years: costs of operating their business, the economy, access to skilled labour, red tape and an aging population – relative to both workforce and customer base. We take comfort in knowing that the government and Opportunities New Brunswick fully recognize these barriers and are actively working on solutions. Stephen Lund and his team at ONB have done a great job of reaching out to the business community, listening carefully to our concerns and bringing solutions to government such as the Business Navigator program, which was launched last year.
It is also important to keep in mind that by their nature these are challenges that cannot be fixed in a single year, or even a single political mandate. At the end of the day, the solution is growing the economy through private sector investment. People, capital and many business operations are highly mobile today, companies need good reasons to come and stay here. Government’s role is to invest their resources strategically and create an environment in which business can prosper. Government policy is a key driver of private sector investment that will cause New Brunswick to grow or decline and We Choose Growth.
We were pleased to see a new population growth strategy and action plan launched in August, under which the province would welcome up to 7,500 newcomers annually by 2024. Given estimates from demographers and economists such as David Campbell, this figure, roughly 1% of our current population, will be the absolute minimum amount to maintain the workforce, and we will still need growth from other sources such as repatriation and student retention.
We think the next step is developing and committing to an innovation strategy in New Brunswick to propel our economy into the future and give people a reason to be excited about investing in the province. We have a long history of being innovative global leaders. Today we can better leverage our position as a hub for technology, cyber security, the bio-economy, startups, and more that could fit into a comprehensive innovation strategy. The success that New Brunswick has had in these areas in the past decade presents an obvious opportunity for future growth and it is well worth investing the time, money and effort required to continue down this road. We already have world-class post-secondary institutions and local and provincial partners are currently ensuring our status as a global cyber security leader to maintain the positive momentum that has been created in this community and throughout New Brunswick. This not only means attracting new businesses, but helping established businesses to incorporate new digital technology, robotics, automation and other innovative solutions into their businesses to help them be more productive, grow and compete globally.
We should also remember we aren’t starting completely from scratch. There are great things happening in both the private and public sectors. Recent business-friendly decisions by government will help not only current New Brunswick businesses, but send the right message to the world that we are open for business. Decisions like supporting the cyber security industry, like implementing changes to WorkSafeNB, like changing liquor laws to improve competitiveness, and the flexibility that balanced budgets allow, show that we are a province poised to compete in the 21st century economy.
As we hear from our premier this evening, we are looking forward to learning more about the government’s plans to build on successes, confront challenges and grow New Brunswick together.