The region’s business community needs to continue to collaborate with its colleagues in northeastern United States, despite government resistance regarding the Atlantica concept.

That from Jim Quigley, the Fredericton-based president of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce, after the first-ever American citizen was recently appointed to its board of directors.

Jonathan Daniels, president and CEO of the Eastern Maine Development Corporation, has been named the second vice-president of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce, an organization focused on using a larger geographic base to improve the economic performance.

“The appointment of Jonathan as second vice-president was highly symbolic for us,” said Mr. Quigley. “What we are really trying to say is that the region of Atlantica exists whether politicians believe it or not. Also, the voice of business in this region is making a statement. I tend to call it the Atlantica Chamber of Commerce.”

Further, Mr. Daniels is pegged as Mr. Quigley’s eventual successor as the organization moves to a more diverse and extended economic base, one that will include the Atlantic Canada region plus Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York state and part of northern Massachusetts.

The Atlantica concept was developed in the past three years, an economic initiative directed at promoting the entire region as an economic hub. The region stretches from St. John’s, Nfld., through the Maritimes and as far west as Buffalo, N.Y., and as far south, providing a combined market of 43 million consumers.

Given the global business climate, with huge advances made in China and India, the combined forces of business in places such as Bangor, Saint John, St. John’s and other sectors are needed to provide the required corporate clout to maintain and expand business opportunities locally.

But the details of this combined concept, currently under study by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, causes worry in government circles that it could lead to a push for political independence.

Mr. Daniels says that cooperative approaches are required, given those competitive forces at work.

And he feels the proposed Atlantica region has not done enough to promote itself as a major corporate player.

He also feels a more cooperative approach with government and government officials is required.

“Any administration is going to have an agenda,” he said. “How do we fit within their agenda and how do we help shape their agenda? It is really a change in the political will which in a sense will change the economic will of the region.”

He says development of the Atlantica approach will take collaboration with government but can’t become overly politicized either.

“We need to be able to bring them along and to educate the administrations about what the benefits are,” Mr. Daniels explained.

“If they wish to come along, wonderful. If they don’t want to come along or they need to see more, that’s fine as well. It’s just that we cannot afford to wait.”

Percy Mockler, New Brunswick’s minister of intergovernmental and International relations, agrees that dialogue is required to make the process work.

“I don’t think anyone can stand up today and say they do have the answers to all of our challenges,” he said. “Relations are dealing with people, politics is dealing with people and business is dealing with people.”

For example in 2004, New Brunswick’s exports were $9.48 billion, of which 90 per cent went to the United States.

That year, the province brought in $6.9 billion of imports, 34 per cent from the United States and 31 per cent from Norway.

But with the global market place expanding to include huge growth areas such as China and India, promoters of Atlantica say the region must act as one economic centre, regardless of provincial and international borders.

The exports from Asia provide opportunity at ports, such as Halifax, which could provide an economic boom for the entire region, including Saint John, the gateway to the United States.

Executives with the Saint John Board of Trade and Enterprise Saint John both endorsed Mr. Daniels, who through his role at the Eastern Maine Development Corporation, has extensive dealings with both organizations.

“He is a great choice,” said Dale Knox, chair of Enterprise Saint John.

“Jonathan has been in the economic development business for a number of years. He understands the issues of the U.S. northeast. Increasingly, when we look at what happens in their communities and our communities in regard to economic development and what the opportunities and issues are, there are some real parallels there and there is real synergy from working together.”

Saint John Board of Trade president Imelda Gilman echoed those comments and said the entire issue of economic regionalization will be discussed this June, when it hosts a conference entitled Reaching Atlantica.

The conference will focus on energy, tourism and transportation issues.