FREDERICTON – A bill to establish an arms-length agency charged with creating jobs and attracting investment to the province will be tabled in spring 2011, says the minister of economic development.

“Invest NB will be a crown corporation that will have a very serious mandate to increase the economy and create good jobs in the province of New Brunswick,” Paul Robichaud told reporters following the first session of the legislature in Fredericton on Wednesday.

The new agency is part of the Tories’ plan to restructure and refocus Business New Brunswick and other government programs and services geared toward the private sector.

Robichaud said he will introduce a bill to create Invest NB in the spring session of the legislature, noting it should be fully operational by 2012.
The minister said business leaders will run the arms-length agency rather than bureaucrats because they have the expertise and experience required to foster growth in the province.

“I think that’s a good idea and all you have to do is take a look across the border at Nova Scotia Business Inc. to see how effective that can be,” said Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax.

Cirtwill fully endorsed the creation of Invest NB, saying it closely models Nova Scotia’s investment attraction arm that was formed in 2001 and is led by a private-sector board of directors.

“For the most part, we’ve had decisions based on a business case, on a sustainable go-forward basis; are they going to create jobs, have they created jobs, is there a return to the taxpayers?” Cirtwill said of Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s performance.

But the economist cautioned New Brunswick not to make the same mistake as its Atlantic neighbour.
The Bluenose Province kept a cabinet-level industrial expansion fund running instead of letting Nova Scotia Business Inc. become the one-stop source for business needs, Cirtwill said, creating a two-tier system in which a company that had been rejected by the new agency could go directly to politicians for funding anyway.

“This is one of the dangers New Brunswick should try to avoid at all costs,” Cirtwill said. “If you want an arms-length agency to handle your economic investments based on the business case, then do that. Don’t go half way and maintain an appeals authority at the cabinet level.”

Cirtwill noted that the birth of Invest NB raises questions about the future of Business New Brunswick, which, among other responsibilities, was charged with the same tasks the new agency will have.

“The challenge for you is what do you do with the existing infrastructure? The best thing to do is eliminate it,” Cirtwill said, adding that scenario is not likely to happen in New Brunswick just as it hadn’t in Nova Scotia.

“What’s probably going to happen is your existing infrastructure is going to get focused on what they call ‘the bigger issues’… around infrastructure investment, community growth, things like supporting venture capital programs.”

However, having multiple agencies or departments handling similar tasks is confusing for businesses looking to capitalize on government programs, Cirtwill noted.

Recognizing that, Robichaud said the various portfolios he manages – which include the Regional Development Corporation, the Northern New Brunswick Initiative and Rural Affairs – will be consolidated into one economic development department.

Without giving any specifics, Robichaud said the consolidation will remove some of the red tape businesses encounter and reduce the level of confusion around government programs and services.

“We are at the drawing board right now, but the name will probably change, the structure will probably change with the focus on job creation and economic development, because this province needs a very good hand to grow the economy,” the minister and MLA for Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou said.

Roger Melanson, economic development critic for the opposition, said Invest NB will be a good opportunity to do business differently in the province. The Liberal MLA for Dieppe-Centre-Lewisville said he hopes the new agency will be operational in time to cash in on opportunities that surface as the global economy recovers.

“We’re going to be watching this closely in opposition, but if we can have an agency that’s going to allow us to grow our economy faster, it makes a lot of sense,” Melanson said.

Stephen Lund, the head and chief architect behind Nova Scotia Business Inc., had one piece of advice for the province as it looks to create a similar agency.

“It’s all about people,” Lund said. “Structure can be important but really at the end of the day you’ve got to get the best people you can get on the bus, doing the job. “There are lots of great people in New Brunswick that I think would jump at this, and I think some that have world-wide experience and may be living somewhere else who may want to come home,” Lund said.

Asked if he’d be interested in the job, Lund, a Saint John native, said he looked forward to working with the new corporation but was enjoying his work in Nova Scotia.

Robichaud said there are a number of potential candidates for the top job at Invest NB, though he wouldn’t offer any names and said he didn’t have anyone specific in mind at this time.

“The candidate will have a very large experience in the business sector in New Brunswick, especially regarding exports or imports,” Robichaud said.