HALIFAX – Part of Kevin Hamm’s job is to sell Nova Scotia. But that’s a challenge when potential clients have never heard of your home province.

Nine months ago, Hamm was named head of the Nova Scotia Gateway Secretariat, a government office set up to boost ship and air cargo through Nova Scotian ports.

Since taking the CEO post, Hamm has travelled to northern Europe, India, Vietnam and Chicago – a potential destination for cargo flowing from Asia, through Nova Scotia and into North American markets.

Those visits made one fact clear: Nova Scotia is not yet synonymous with international trade and commerce.

“I was somewhat surprised when we mentioned Nova Scotia. Not everyone knew where Nova Scotia was,” Hamm said in an interview at his downtown Halifax office. “When people don’t know who you are, you’ve got to find a way to express it.”

For Hamm, the key to projecting Nova Scotia’s potential as a trade hub is plain: marketing and promotion, two exercises he says are made easier by federal dollars.

Last month, Ottawa announced another $2.5 million to promote the Atlantic Gateway, a concept focused on making the Atlantic provinces an entry point for goods coming from Europe and Asia.

In Halifax, for instance, there’s still plenty of space for additional cargo. The Port of Halifax, which consists of two terminals, can handle 1.4 million containers a year. In 2010, 435,000 containers passed through Halifax, meaning the port ran at one-third capacity.

Hamm’s job involves promoting Halifax and the rest of Nova Scotia as a legitimate entry and exit point for cargo. That means opening new markets in Korea, expanding Nova Scotia connections with Vietnam, and working to push cargo through Nova Scotia and into the American “heartland”.

To do so, Hamm says the secretariat is developing a tool to help shippers determine the exact cost of sending a piece of cargo through Halifax, from origin to final destination.

“We need to increase the people, products and goods and services flowing to and from this province,” he said. “Unless we increase traffic, we’re not doing our job.”

Hamm, the former CEO of both Pharmasave Atlantic and Downeast Communications, argues his executive experience will prove valuable over his three-year term.

“Those jobs were all about business development. They were all about taking a market share and making it bigger, stronger and producing a return on investment,” he said. “I’m going to do the same thing here.”

The gateway concept is not without critics, however.

Last month, the head of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said Ottawa should step away from the Atlantic Gateway idea, which Charles Cirtwill says has progressed little despite four years and millions of federal dollars.

“There are better things you can do with my tax money,” said the think-tank president and CEO.

For his part, Hamm admits “gateway” can be a “nebulous term”. But if successful, he argues, the Nova Scotia Gateway will aid the entire Atlantic region.

“I can say with conviction: it will help benefit all four provinces,” he said. “Without the other provinces we’re not going to be successful.”