09/20/2011 09:53 EDT | Updated 11/20/2011 05:12 EST

New Brunswick launches agency to lure foreign investment to province

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - Almost a year after it was first announced, the New Brunswick government has officially launched a new Crown corporation intended to attract foreign investment and create jobs.

Premier David Alward said it has taken that long to hire staff, a board of directors and set up a framework for Invest NB.

The highly choreographed launch consisted of staggered news conferences in Saint John, Moncton and Campbellton on Tuesday.

Alward said the new corporation will focus on attracting foreign companies to relocate to New Brunswick or invest in the province, leaving the existing Business New Brunswick to concentrate on stirring investment within the province.

"Both organizations are going to be able to hit their full potential and it's going to be a benefit for all of New Brunswick," he said.

Alward said with growing competition for global investment, the new agency must aggressively pursue businesses that will succeed in New Brunswick and create jobs.

He said the goal is to increase the province's gross domestic product by $293 million over the next three years, and performance reports will be made public.

The Opposition Liberals are critical of Invest NB, saying New Brunswickers have been waiting a year for the agency to begin its work.

"So far we have a new website and a new layer of bureaucracy," Liberal economic development critic Roger Melanson said Tuesday.

"We fail to see how Invest NB's mandate is any different than Business New Brunswick."

The agency will provide incentives for qualifying companies, such as training assistance.

The budget for the agency's first eight months in operation — from July until the end of the fiscal year next March — is $10.5 million.

The board of directors for Invest NB includes Denis Losier, president of Assumption Life, who is the chairman. The vice-chairwoman is Helena Cain, vice-president of Bell Aliant. The rest of the board consists of a mix of business leaders and academics.

Alward used his state of the province address in January to announce that Robert MacLeod would be the chief executive officer of Invest NB.

MacLeod has held executive positions with G.E. Barbour Inc., Cavendish Farms and McCain Foods. He also has deep roots in the Conservative party.

MacLeod ran against Alward for the party leadership, and was co-chairman of last year's Tory election campaign.