Panel ponders how to strengthen region's economy

Map highlighting Atlantic CanadaImage via WikipediaThe economic future of Atlantic Canada may depend on developing a brand, according to the president of the University of Prince Edward Island.
"That question of brand is really critical," Wade MacLauchlan said during a panel discussion in St. Andrews on Friday. "It takes us to the question of how do we think about ourselves and what our expectations are, and what we think we have that is a basis for having competitive excellence in the world."
The P.E.I. mussels are one brand that has worked for the region, said MacLauchlan during a discussion on the economic future of Atlantic Canada. The session was part of a three-day Ideas Festival conference, hosted by the Fredericton-based 21inc. and Ottawa's Public Policy Forum.
MacLauchlan noted that P.E.I. mussels show up on menus across the world, and food could be a potential area where the region can achieve global excellence.
"The good news is that we already have global players here that are showing us how to do that," said MacLauchlan, referring to the international success of the region's food companies such as McCain Foods Ltd. and Oxford Frozen Foods.
The economic future of Atlantic Canada could also lie in increasing the international export of food, said Karen Oldfield, the president and CEO of the Halifax Port Authority.
During the panel, Oldfield told the audience of a pilot project recently completed by her port.
In collaboration with CN Rail and a Montreal-based container company, the port authority transported grains products from Saskatchewan to Halifax, and then shipped that grain to overseas markets looking for Canadian goods. With Atlantic provinces now growing plenty of crops, such systems can allow for the export of these products to the world.
"This is a true Atlantic success story - we are taking soybean product from P.E.I., we are taking soybean product from Nova Scotia, and we are creating a whole new market for a whole new product. It's going to be one of the products for the future - food."
During the session, Oldfield also touched upon the immigration, and the need for Atlantic Canada to create a more welcoming environment for immigrants. She said Atlantic Canada is not doing enough to integrate immigrants into communities.
"It's easier to be a global business when you can draw upon the experience of your own workforce to help you to understand a particular market or culture," said Oldfield, speaking to the value of employees coming from abroad.
While the panel focused on the future of the region, Monique Collette, the senior advisor to the privy council office in Ottawa, spoke to the past success of the region.
Collette said one of the assets of Atlantic Canada is the ability of the region to bounce back. While Ontario continues to struggle with the breakdown of the manufacturing industry, Collette noted that Atlantic Canada is doing relatively well in recovering from the recession.
"We are a very resilient people, and resiliency is not given to everybody," Collette said.
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