By David Shipley

The organizer of an Atlantic Canadian economic development conference hopes the session will lead to a better future – one in which his children will be able to stay and work in New Brunswick. Stu Lyons, 36, a recent business graduate of Mount Allison University in Sackville, said he came up with the idea of the three-day conference during a class at the university.

“As I was sitting in class one day and the teacher asked ‘how many of you students plan on staying in Atlantic Canada upon graduating?’ and I looked around the room and out of around 125, I saw three students raise their hands,” he said.

Lyons said he was struck by how many students were focused on going the Western Canada to work after graduation.

“They’re not sticking around,” he said.

It’s an urge to which Lyons can relate – as an avid genealogist, he’s discovered that most of his family moved to other parts of Canada or the United States after they arrived in Atlantic Canada.

“I’d like for my child, for my future generations, to stay here,” he said.

The conference brings together roughly 125 economic development experts, government officials, academics as well as business leaders over three days. It will begin on Thursday night with a reception featuring Francis McGuire, co-chairman of the New Brunswick Self-Sufficiency Task Force. On Friday, Monte Solberg, federal minister of Human Resources and Social Development will give a brief luncheon address to delegates. Monique Collette, president of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, will give a breakfast keynote speech on Saturday. Lyons said he’s hoping a few of the Atlantic provinces’ premiers will be able to attend the conference.

Throughout the conference, sessions and workshops will be held on topics such as access to capital, transportation infrastructure and labour recruitment and retention. Additional guest speakers who will be participating in the conference include Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies; Elizabeth Beale, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council; and Stephen Dempsey, chairman of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce.

The conference is being sponsored by ACOA, New Brunswick’s enterprise agencies, and Mount Allison’s Centre for Canadian Studies and Faculty of Social Sciences. Lyons hopes the conference, titled Re-imagining the Atlantic Canadian Economy, will lead to new solutions to decades-old problems of the region.

“The general public has to lead the charge, because the government is afraid to act on its own,” he said.