Daniel Porter isn’t a captain of industry or the president of a university and he doesn’t travel outside the province much. But that didn’t stop the Liberal government from naming him an ambassador as part of a new program to promote the province as a good place to do business. For the past 16 years, Porter has been painting portraits of wealthy tourists who come here to fish.

“It is a chance to give back … not only in business but from a cultural point of view,” said Porter in an interview Monday about being an ambassador.

He said there isn’t much he will do differently as an ambassador that he doesn’t normally do while wearing hip waders in the middle of New Brunswick rivers and talking to powerful anglers. But Porter said the information package that Business New Brunswick has prepared for ambassadors will be a useful tool.

“I will have conversations with clients related to the work that I do but often times over the course of two or three days visiting with these people they will discuss other things related to their business,” he said. “They happen to be some very high-profile business people abroad.”

That’s when the artist needs to know more about things such as energy, the province’s investment advantages, workforce data, geographic proximity to markets and exports.

“It is a great thing for me to be able to pass along,” said Porter. “Who knows what might come from it?”

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne said Monday he wants to recruit 100 ambassadors such as Porter within 100 days. The goal is to build a distinguished sales force that will promote New Brunswick and seek out new business leads and partnerships, he said. Potential ambassadors include New Brunswick business executives, alumni and expats living and working abroad, executives operating provincial branch plants, key civil servants and politicians, and other friends of the province. Byrne invited interested persons to contact his department.

“As we work to achieve our goal of self-sufficiency, we need to engage our successful New Brunswickers and friends to help tell our story,” said the minister.

Business New Brunswick will build a database of contacts developed by the ambassadors, he said. There will also be ambassador forums inside and outside New Brunswick and special web pages. Byrne said the cost of the program is modest and is being done in house. The only compensation the ambassadors are getting is a certificate and a lapel pin, he said.

Helena Cain, vice-president of enterprise sales of Aliant, is also an ambassador. She said the strategy of tapping into business networks and the loyalty people feel for their province is brilliant.

“We already are ambassadors at heart,” she said.

Michael Higgins, president of St. Thomas University, is also an ambassador and he said he plans to take advantage of his roots in the culture industry of Toronto. Since coming to New Brunswick 15 months ago, he said he has discovered there is a remarkable creativity in this province. Higgins said knowledge and culture industries have an important role to play in New Brunswick’s quest for self-sufficiency.

Anthony Knight, general manager of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, said the ambassador program is an outstanding idea.

“It is more tangible than just a web site or a brochure,” he said.

It also formalizes an informal networking system that sometimes loses business cards or doesn’t follow up properly, said Knight. He said it could really help with the effort to repatriate former New Brunswicker residents.

“We need New Brunswickers to recognize we all have a responsibility to advance the future of our province,” said Knight.

But Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said he would rather see the province improve its product before recruiting more sales people. He said the province should concentrate on improving its tax rate, job creation and other opportunities.

“The simple fact is that while it is nice to have a delivery system it is better to have something to deliver,” said Cirtwill.

For example, the province is still poorly served by air links to other major communities, he said. Forcing a business person to take three connecting flights to get home doesn’t send a good message, he said.

“But I do have to give kudos to this government,” said Cirtwill. “At least they are thinking about things differently.”

The Liberals are treating the people leaving the province as a resource, he said.

“It is not a bad idea to take advantage of every opportunity you have,” said Cirtwill. “It makes a lot of sense rather than just let them sit there.”

To read a second story on this topic, “N.B offers grants to small business”, click here.