Frank McKenna donates $5M to create UNB institute focused on digital technology

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FREDERICTON — The University of New Brunswick announced Tuesday a new institute intended to create jobs and prosperity in the field of digital technology and transformation.

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna has donated $5 million and plans to raise another $50 million for the institute that will carry his name.

"I was interested in finding something that would be a real force multiplier, that would have the potential to dramatically change the conversation in New Brunswick about innovation," McKenna said in an interview.

"The whole world went topsy-turvy 18 months ago, and all of a sudden all of those things we never thought we could do — having millions of people working from home and continuing to function as a society — all of a sudden were being done."

He said it became obvious that people needed to have the digital tools in order to survive in this world.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told a news conference that during the pandemic there have been many examples of digital transformation, such as virtual doctor's appointments. He cited an example from his family, saying his daughter who works in Bangkok was unable to return to Thailand after a visit home last year. However, he said, she has been able to do her work online from New Brunswick.

Higgs said he is in full support of the McKenna Institute and announced $10 million in provincial funding. "This is an investment that we all need to be part of," he said.

UNB President Paul Mazerolle said the institute will act as a catalyst to develop new ideas and train the workforce to meet future needs in the technology sector. He said the aim is also to expand the use of digital technology to other areas such as agriculture, forestry and health care.

"We need to be able to be an attractive pipeline of talent so that a global company can say 'Hey I can come to New Brunswick because I know I can hire computer scientists or other people with data analytics skills and I have no problem finding highly educated people'," Mazerolle said in an interview.

McKenna said New Brunswick hasn't maintained a leadership role in innovation.

"We can help our businesses become more digitally literate, more competitive and create new businesses. We can create more jobs, and more growth nodes like cybersecurity," he said. McKenna said there are already nearly 5,000 New Brunswickers working in cybersecurity, and that success can be repeated in other areas.

"We are going to double the faculty of computer science, double the number of students, triple the number of graduate students," he said. "That's just to get started to deal with the instant demand for workers."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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