N.B. employers have jobs they can't fill — so they're looking south for job-seekers
Moncton has peddled its low cost-of-living and maritime charm to prospective employees before, but in the days after the U.S. election the New Brunswick city took its pitch to a new audience — Americans.
At the centre of the pitch to would-be workers, an ad portraying the fictional Uncle Sam with a Canadian flag in the background. The caption below: "Greater Moncton, New Brunswick, Wants You!"
New Brunswick, on the whole, has seen a decline in population in recent years. But the Moncton area is growing and recently surpassed Saint John as the biggest city in the province.
The city's advanced telecommunication infrastructure, bilingual workforce and low-cost of doing business have turned it into a software hub, but a shortage of skilled workers has been a challenge for local businesses.
There aren't enough qualified locals or Canadians willing to relocate, says Donald Arseneault, minister responsible for population growth in the province. So officials in a region hoping to boom devised a provocative plan to not go bust.
"You can't just sit in your backyard and wait for everybody to come to you. We have to go out there and present that message," Arseneault says.
"We see an opportunity with United States with the new president," he says. People may be "uncertain about their future in their own country" and may want to look elsewhere.
The campaign included a promise that Moncton would be holding a job fair in the U.S.
The phones started ringing, off the hook.
"It exploded. It really caught a lot of attention."
Keri Alberts works for 3+, an economic development corporation that helps the Moncton region recruit workers. The corporation has held job fairs in the U.S before, but this time, timing proved to be everything.
Alberts herself fielded more than 300 calls in the first few weeks.
"There was a huge sense of urgency," says Alberts of the post-election response. "The urgency was 'Oh my gosh, I don't know what's going to happen to me and my family. I want to leave and I want to come there now. But we just weren't ready."
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The plan was not without critics, with some locals saying that there were lots of local candidates looking for work.
But with as many as 1,000 jobs unfilled, the plan moved forward. Logistical delays meant Moncton could only get around to holding a job fair in New York in late February. More than 300 people showed up at a Manhattan hotel.
The majority, Alberts says, were already employed with good jobs. And the majority were visible minorities. People like engineering specialist Nicola Graham, who emigrated to the U.S from Jamaica nearly a decade ago. Graham has always worried about gun violence in the U.S. but when there was an uptick in reports of race-related incidents after Trump's election, it was a tipping point for her.
"You know, am I going to actually eventually run into somebody that tells me I need to go back to where I'm from? I mean, I don't know."
She says for her, it's not about what's going to happen tomorrow or even next week.
"I'm more worried about what's going to happen in the future and I'm trying to act on it before it happens."
Hong Sun also feels uneasy. The software specialist took the bus from New Hampshire to attend the job fair. Sun is originally from China and came to the U.S to pursue his studies five years ago. He's now working at an IT company on a foreign worker visa.
"The uncertainty now makes me nervous," Sun says. "At this time I think Canada is more open to accepting foreign workers and new immigrants."
That openness has a new selling point. The federal government recently launched a pilot project designed to boost immigration to the Atlantic provinces, offering expedited residency status to new foreign workers.
"I think it definitely works to our advantage," says Shelly Butler, chief operating officer at Dovico, a Moncton-based software company that helps companies track efficiencies in their work processes.
Dovico was one of the five IT companies that took part in the job fair, hoping to get a handful of resumes. The company received more than 200. Butler says fast-tracking residency status may clinch the deal for people who aren't feeling as welcome in the U.S.
"We want to have that cultural diversity," says Butler. "We have very little of it here in the greater Moncton area, and we are looking to get a whole lot more of it."
It's too early to say how many of the people who came to the job fair will actually make the move. Five people were hired on the spot and Hong and Graham are currently in the Canadian residency application process, with no formal offers as of yet.
The application process is still open online and companies like Dovico are still going through all those resumes.
Back in New York, Graham says if she gets an offer she would seriously consider relocating to Moncton, because waiting it out doesn't feel like an option.
"It's more than just a president," Graham says. "It's more the culture. I mean if the culture is so that people become anti-immigrant it doesn't matter who leads it. You know if he leaves in four years that's still going to be there. So it's more than just what's happening in the current administration. It's bigger than that."
And if that brain drain is Moncton's gain, well Arseneault is fine with that.
"There's no doubt that the last several months has been tough for many citizens in the U.S. And at the end of the day, there's an opportunity there."