Atlantica. Most people in Atlantic Canada have at one time or another heard of or read about Atlantica. And there have been many opinions formed – positive and otherwise – a lot of misinformation circulated and, in turn, misconceptions developed.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, unless you are part of a raucous group of loud protesters with dire warnings of imagined capitalist conspiracies and corporate sell-outs, your quiet, sensible message doesn’t seem to get heard, no matter how reasonable your approach.

For us at the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce (APCC), it’s very simple. Atlantica is a region of economic co-operation and nothing more. We want to encourage businesses to partner across the region, across provincial and international borders, to not only compete together on the global stage but to excel. For the simple reason we have so much in common, we group the four Atlantic Provinces, southeastern Quebec, and the New England states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York together in a shared economic region. Overall, these states and provinces share a linked history, common cultures, and very similar business opportunities and economic challenges.

Accomplishing regional economic co-operation means reducing barriers to trade, upgrading infrastructure, and making rules and regulations more consistent, effective, and investment friendly, so commerce thrives and our communities grow and prosper rather than whither and die. Atlantica is about seizing opportunities for growth and prosperity for a promising future. Other nations and regions have done it and so can we. For all these reasons, Atlantica remains the major initiative at APCC.

Confusion around the meaning of Atlantica is not really surprising, and we can take at least part of the blame. I’m convinced it stems from our own overemphasis, and that of other stakeholders, on the transportation aspect of Atlantica – the Atlantic Gateway – especially in Nova Scotia. Sure the gateway is important, arguably critical for Atlantica, and we must not lose sight of that – but it is just one piece. That is the message we at APCC have failed to get across to the public.

The Atlantic Gateway is a transportation strategy – a multi-modal transportation network connecting Atlantic Canada’s east coast ports to the mid-continent and overseas markets. Our big opportunity is growing container traffic from Asia headed for congested U.S. ports and carried on huge post-panamax ships too big for the Panama Canal. In times past our geographic position was a disadvantage, as smaller ships sailed past us to reach Montreal or New York. But now new technologies and global supply chain management have pushed us right into the middle of one of the major global transportation networks on the planet.

Yes, the Atlantica concept consists of so much more. Having world class ports, good roads and rail running through the region is simply not enough. Atlantica is about collaboration and co-operation, and leveraging opportunities to create new wealth. Supporters want to take advantage of our strategic location to participate more fully and compete successfully in the global economy. Along with harmonizing regulations and reducing trade barriers, it means ensuring all necessary infrastructure is in place – transportation, energy and communications.

Spectacular advances in technology and changing global trade patterns have provided Atlantic Canadians a huge opportunity to build a robust and sustainable economy. It would be difficult to find a region anywhere with more opportunity for diverse energy and leading technology development than here in Atlantic Canada. The massive Lower Churchill River hydro project in Labrador, Fundy tidal energy in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, wind farms in Prince Edward Island and throughout the region, LNG in New Brunswick, and oil and gas offshore Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are truly world class resources. And there is more, including onshore natural gas, coal, coal bed methane, bio-fuels and nuclear. But there is no regional strategy to maximize these opportunities.

In Atlantic Canada, if we want to create new wealth and lasting prosperity, we must act on the opportunities literally dropped in our laps, and work together to develop the regional strategies so critical for success. Old parochial attitudes have held us back for too long!

The idea of economic regional co-operation is not a new way of thinking, and Atlantica is not a new concept; the term has been tossed around for 40 years. But let’s be clear, at APCC our vision of Atlantica is simple, rational and non-threatening. Atlantica is a region of economic co-operation – nothing more. It does not call for any sort of political union or amalgamation. And it’s certainly not the name of some fanciful new country. Atlantica is about pursuing sensible and practical policies, and regional strategies designed to promote growth and prosperity throughout the region.

It’s time to seize the future and there is no better time than now!

Bill Denyar is president and CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce, an alliance of more than 100 local chambers of commerce and boards of trade across Atlantic Canada representing over 16,000 businesses.