Four shining shovels tossing a bit of earth was a small gesture in the grand scheme of what the premier hopes will mean big things for the province.

Work to prepare the future home of two new potash mine shafts has been underway for weeks earlier, but an official groundbreaking was held in March. It marked the beginning of what will be a nearly $1.7 billion investment by PotashCorp and will help make New Brunswick the envy of its Atlantic neighbours.

“There are going to be three capital-intensive projects this year that are going to drive our economy in New Brunswick to outperform the other Atlantic provinces,” said Premier Shawn Graham, the other projects being the refurbishment at Point Lepreau and the capital construction budget.

“These three large infrastructure projects are a catalyst on bringing New Brunswickers home and creating more opportunities for employment in the province.”

PotashCorp, the world’s largest potash producer, formally announced its plans for expansion last summer. Over the next six or seven years PotashCorp plans to expand its mine operations here with two new mine shafts at the Picadilly potash deposit.

The potash ore mined in this deposit will be transported via pipeline to the existing processing facility on the other side of Highway 114.

Once fully developed, the new mine will replace the existing underground operation.

PotashCorp president Garth Moore was on hand for the ceremony and called operations in New Brunswick “key” to their overall production.

“We’re increasing our annual production capacity at a location with access to a port that provides the shortest shipping times to key Latin America markets like Brazil, where substantial long-term growth in demand for upgraded potash is expected,” he said.

The construction phase of the two new mine shafts is expected to generate the equivalent of 2,500 person years of employment and when completed, 150 new full-time jobs bringing PotashCorp’s workforce in New Brunswick up to 490 people.

To support PotashCorp in their expansion, the province has agreed to waive initial royalty revenue, about $35 million, in order to pull in $350 million during the life of project.

Minister of Natural Resources Donald Arseneault said PotashCorp has been the talk of the province for many months but not just because of its expansion.

“In the last several months, you guys got the salt for my roads,” he joked. “I think we can all agree that the reality is looking brighter and brighter for the province of New Brunswick. Businesses and New Brunswickers will all benefit from Picadilly.”

Along with potash, the mine here also produces salt. PotashCorp produced more than 587,000 tonnes of salt in 2006.