How Atlantic Canada became the most attractive place to work and live

I’d like to take you on a quick tour. It’s 2030 and Atlantic Canada has become the most attractive place in the world to live and work. It’s the best place to turn an idea into reality, all generations are supported and have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, and people are still buzzing about how remarkable it was that we were able to create such a successful economy based on 3 basic pillars – people, planet and profit – after the difficult times only 15 years previous.

15 years – it seems so long, and yet such a short period of time. As a reference point, you’ll have seen almost 4 complete election cycles. Lots of time, and yet it’s still hard to see ourselves and our future, though we know it’s an extremely important exercise.

I recently met a few people who consider themselves ‘futurists’ and I gotta say I love that title. People who design the future, which is why you’re here today. One of the examples of someone who I believe is creating the future is Elon Musk. In particular, I’m fascinated by Tesla – their mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. And they’re well on their way to doing that.

So how can we take the lessons from Tesla or others into answering a question like, how did Atlantic Canada become the most attractive place in the world to live and work?

Drilling down into that question – what are the pieces of making a mission like that happen?

I can’t in good conscience ask all young Atlantic Canadians to stay here. Seeing the world and learning new approaches is hugely important. It’s been correlated with openness to new ideas.

What I can say though, is, that if you stay, or leave and come back, there is tremendous potential here. I’ve said it before – I think one of our competitive advantages for youth is our interconnectedness.  We definitely don’t talk about that enough – that people are willing to talk to you here, if you’re willing to do your homework and reach out for advice. While there may be less overall opportunities here, there really are countless opportunities for you to make your own luck.

The bottom line is that we need young people here – we need people to stay, and we also need newcomers – whether they’re coming from somewhere else in Canada, whether they’re refugees or whether they’re immigrants.

Why? The stats speak for themselves. In New Brunswick, for instance:

  • There are currently 130,000 youth between ages of 15 – 29 – that’s just under 20% of our population,
  • In the last 5 years, we’ve seen a net loss of almost 10,000 youth (15,000 moved here, and 24,600 left),
  • and we have second oldest population in Canada with a median age of 45.

Having looked at those grim statistics, how do we change the narrative around what is possible here?

I recently read a great article called ‘The Rural Brain Drain’ (thanks to Matt Campbell for the recommendation) that was based on over a year of research profiling a rural community in Iowa. Having driven through rural Iowa this past summer, I think that there are a lot of similarities between there and NB. The researchers found young people fit into 4 main categories, and I’d be curious to know which category you see yourselves fitting into:

  • Seekers: those who will leave no matter what – they seek adventure in the world and will do find it.
  • Stayers: those who stay, for whatever reason.
  • Achievers: those who excel in school and encouraged to leave because the narrative is one that says one can never achieve if you stay.
  • Returners: those, who leave, learn new things and come back.

I think this is relevant for Atlantic Canada. Our narrative is one that we’re a sinking ship, and if you’re going to succeed, you’d better get out here. At the same time, we know that if there are no young people here, we really will sink. How can we change this narrative? What is at the root of it?

My role in building a better Atlantic Canada for youth is through 21inc. 21inc was founded 10 years ago, partially in response to what you are discussing today – unprecedented levels of youth outmigration. We work to accelerate youth leadership – to deepen and broaden peoples networks, to bring them to see awesome people and initiatives in their back yard and to give them concrete skills to lead.

I realize this certainly does not get to any answers – yet. What I hope to keep working on it is thinking about our current reality, and what opportunities that presents.

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