With eight months on the job, recently elected New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham is already working to increase the population of his Atlantic province, turn it into the energy capital of the East Coast and grow its business ties to Georgia.

Mr. Graham made his first trip to Atlanta June 11-12, to attend part of the Americas Competitiveness Forum, a two-day conference that brought senior-level political officials from throughout the Western Hemisphere here to discuss regional economic development issues.

But he also spoke with Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, met with executives at United Parcel Service Inc. and got a feel for the city’s business environment.

“I’m really here to learn the lay of the land,” Mr. Graham told GlobalAtlanta during an interview at the Canadian Consulate General in Midtown. “There’s great potential to do business with companies that are based in Atlanta,” he said, noting that UPS already employs 1,300 people in New Brunswick at centers in Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick.

But Mr. Graham would also like to see New Brunswick’s trading relationship with Georgia increase, suggesting that his lumber, wood and paper-producing province could supply such Atlanta-based companies as Home Depot Inc.

Increasing energy-related exports such as liquid natural gas and gasoline is also on Mr. Graham’s agenda.

New Brunswick is building its second oil refinery that will up the province’s refining capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 600,000 barrels per day once it is completed.

Construction of a $750 million liquefied natural gas terminal is underway in Saint John, New Brunswick. And there is discussion of building a nuclear reactor facility in the province in addition to developing renewable energy industries from sources such as wind and water, he said.

“We’re really positioning New Brunswick as an energy hub for the Eastern seaboard,” said Mr. Graham, who traveled to Paris after Atlanta to explore France’s capacity for developing nuclear energy.

In growing his province’s energy industry, Mr. Graham is following the lead of western Canadian provinces, such as Alberta, which has used its oil industry to become less dependent on the federal government.

“The key to our province’s success is self sufficiency,” said Mr. Graham, who wants to reduce New Brunswick’s dependency on federal funds. “The energy sector allowed [Alberta] to do that,” he said, adding that he would like to see his province work collaboratively with western Canada, rather than rise as its competitor.

In recent years, economic development in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan has attracted workers out of New Brunswick and other Atlantic Canadian provinces.

According to the 2001 Canadian census, New Brunswick lost about 8,400 people between 1996 and 2001, which also cost the province a valuable tax base.

As a result, New Brunswick and other Atlantic Canadian provinces have received more federal “equalization” funds than the rest of the nation in order to keep their public services on par with those offered in wealthier western provinces, according to a report issued by New Brunswick’s Self Sufficiency Task Force.

Mr. Graham formed the Self Sufficiency Task Force in January to plot out the province’s plan for economic development.

In addition to attracting private investment and increasing its exports, the task force also called for an increase in its population base.

With programs to attract immigrants, retain workers and encourage new college graduates to stay in New Brunswick, the province is aiming to grow its population from 750,000 to 850,000 by 2026.

In addition to visiting Atlanta and Paris, Mr. Graham has also been on trade missions to Boston, New York and Toronto. He plans to return to Boston in November with other premieres from Atlantic provinces, but he would also like to come back to Atlanta to explore the business opportunities here, he told GlobalAtlanta.

New Brunswick’s two-way trade with Georgia totaled more than $132 million in 2006, according to Mr. Graham’s office. It exported about $70 million and received about $62 million worth of goods to and from Georgia.

Mr. Graham is the son of Alan Graham, the longest serving member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. Before joining politics in 1998, Mr. Graham worked as a teacher. He also has a master’s in business administration.

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Alan Graham РMarie-Andr̩e Bolduc, press secretary (506) 444-2286