"I wanted to be in a place like Fredericton:" Julia Ramirez. Video by Jordan Gill.

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The province’s chief economist David Campbell says bringing more immigrant families to New Brunswick will essentially pay for itself.

“They will fill labour market needs. So if you need workers they can fill that need. But then they also create the need for products and services themselves,” said Campbell. “A thousand immigrant families, earning the average family income in the province, create enough demand for 1,500 jobs.”

Attracting new immigrants is part of the provincial government’s growth strategy released in 2014. The government aimed to increase the population by 5,000 by 2017 through strategies including immigration, retention and repatriation of people who’ve left New Brunswick.

Our unemployment rate is 9.3 per cent, which has led many to question the wisdom of bringing in more workers to compete in an already competitive job market. Campbell said the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We’re seeing shortages of workers all over the province.”

He said this seemingly contradictory position is because many New Brunswickers don’t want to do certain jobs. He said that even the lumber industry, the provinces most historic, is struggling to find workers.

Campbell added that many New Brunswickers are in seasonal employment, and unwilling to sacrifice the high pay for a lower paying full-time position.

For example, someone working in a fish plant can work enough hours over the fishing season to collect unemployment in the off-season. This would still leave the worker with more money than many year-round jobs.

Even still, many New Brunswickers aren’t convinced of the need for new immigrants. Larry Shaw, chief executive officer at Ignite Fredericton, said this has to change, and one step could be changing the language we use.

“One of the things we need to get to at some point and time is using immigrant, or immigration as a verb only, not as a noun,” said Shaw. “They’re the same as you and I, they just come from a different location.”

Ignite Fredericton is a nonprofit that specializes in helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. It has been trying to get more people to move to the province, with a focus on entrepreneurs.

Many new immigrants want to settle in major centres such as Toronto or Montreal, where ethnic communities have been long established and they are closer to people from their homelands. Shaw acknowledges this, but maintains a smaller community such as Fredericton is a good fit for some and his agency can help those who come here adapt.

“What we need to do though is continue the localization activity, the familiarization activity, and the services that we provide newcomers to integrate them into the community.”

Julia Ramirez, the population growth specialist at Ignite Fredericton and a native of Colombia, said she explicitly wanted to avoid the big cities.

“I wouldn’t want to go to a place like Toronto, and just be with other Colombians. I wanted to be in a place like Fredericton,” said Ramirez. “For me my seller is the four seasons. I love the four seasons.”

Shaw said while Fredericton can always do better, it’s doing pretty well already.

“I think we’re leaders of the pack in this region for sure. Our record on immigration compared to other cities in the region is better,” said Shaw.

In 2014 Fredericton attracted 919 new immigrants, the highest number in the province and 32 per cent of the total who came to New Brunswick, according to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Ignite Fredericton is part of a task force helping Syrian refugees by offering consulting services to those wanting to start a business. Shaw stresses that the Syrian refugees are more like us than we may think.

“What we have to remember is the issue that the Syrians are going through was man-created, it wasn’t natural,” said Shaw. “Syria as a country was advanced in a lot of ways . . . [The refugees] are people who had good jobs, good lives. They were just caught up in the turmoil of a civil war.”

Julia Ramirez and Larry Shaw at Ignite Fredericton. Photos and video by Jordan Gill.

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