Milk that puppy for all its worth

Funny how times change, huh? In 1998, then leader of the Opposition Bernard Lord criticized the Liberals for attracting low end call centre jobs to New Brunswick and promised a ‘made in New Brunswick’ solution to economic development.

In the past seven years since the Lord government has been in power, call centres have made up the vast, and I mean vast majority of new jobs created through formal economic development. In fact, the majority of those jobs have come from companies that were attracted here during the Liberals time in office.

Take Virtual Agent Services. A company I know something about as I was involved in attracting them to NB in the first place. I remember shuttling around Bob C. from the firm before they had one rural call centre agent working anywhere – it was just an idea.

Now, the rest is history.

Daily Gleaner
June 20, 2006
Premier to announce call centre

A new call centre operation that is already training employees in Nackawic is expected to create up to 50 jobs in Nackawic over the next year.

Premier Bernard Lord will be in Nackawic today to formally announce funding for the Virtual-Agent Services (VAS) call centre. The site will be the Illinois-based company’s 15th New Brunswick operation.

The centre’s employees have been training since last week.The province is investing in the project in the form of a forgivable loan. The dollar amount will be made public this morning at an official announcement at the Nackawic municipal office.In the last two years, the province has provided the company with a forgiveable loan of $7,500 for every job created.

The funding assists the company with the costs of training new employees, implementation and administration.VAS has more than 700 employees working in centres in Bouctouche, Doaktown, Minto, Saint-Louis-de-Kent, St. Andrews, St. George, Neguac, Petitcodiac, Chipman, Norton, Rogersville, Hillsborough and two operations in Sussex. The call centre industry is worth more than $1 billion a year to New Brunswick. There are 20,000 workers employed at more than 100 call centres around New Brunswick.

Lord hinted there would be an announcement last week while attending the official opening of the AV Nackawic mill that put 290 people in the community back to work.

About 400 jobs were lost when the mill closed in September 2004.Lord said the community needed to diversify its economy and not rely solely on the forestry sector.

700 employees in rural New Brunswick. Now, grant it, the pay is certainly not spectacular but respectable given the cost of living. Sure, the jobs aren’t for everyone but I think the company is playing a neat role in support of rural development in New Brunswick.

The questions I have are:

1. Where’s the ‘made in New Brunswick’ solution? Seven years later and still harvesting the McKenna call centre initiative.

2. Where are the new ‘growth sectors’? Scroll through the press release section of, beyond a few call centre announcements you could could on one hand the number of new investment projects in the past 12-18 months.

The bottom line is that the call centre sector must be reaching saturation and maturity in New Brunswick. I hope that somebody is cultivating the next round of investment projects (growth sectors).