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Nova Scotians feel attachment to the province but worried about economy

HALIFAX - A focus group commissioned by the provincial government last year found Nova Scotians felt a strong emotional attachment to the province but were concerned about the state of the economy and worried about its slow rate of growth.A report done by Thinkwell Research based on the results of the focus group says participants were "deeply concerned" about the state of Nova Scotia's economy and the future of the province's workforce."Nova Scotia's slow rate of growth, high unemployment levels and the number of young people leaving the province often hit the surface ... with members of all groups expressing worry, frustration and sometimes anger over current trends," says the March 2014 report done for Communications Nova Scotia.But the findings also say that pride in being from the province was high, with most people feeling a strong emotional connection to Nova Scotia."Virtually everybody considers Nova Scotia a great place to raise a family and plant roots," say the findings by the Halifax-based research company.The focus group also found that people who have moved away from Nova Scotia expressed an emotional pull to the province, but believe they made the right decision in leaving."Most former residents see limited employment opportunities in the province," says the report, obtained under the provincial freedom-of-information law."Even when they hear of a 'good job' available in Nova Scotia ... most individuals assume that the position will not pay a competitive salary — a perception that seems to stop many former Nova Scotians from taking action."John Somers, a senior executive director in the Labour and Advanced Education Department, said Nova Scotia's economic state isn't unique and many Canadians are concerned about their financial futures."If you just look right across the country right now ... particularly since 2008, there's been a fair amount of economic uncertainty," Somers said in an interview this week.Somers said Nova Scotians should be optimistic about the future with major economic development opportunities on the horizon, such as Irving Shipbuilding's $2.3-billion contract to build six Arctic Patrol vessels for the federal government."The economy is always in a state of change but I think some of those things will help keep Nova Scotians here and may certainly bring some back," he said.The report also noted that emerging sectors like shipbuilding were thought to be "bright spots" in the economy.Somers said the government recently undertook a number of initiatives to improve the economy, including scrapping a separate government department for economic, rural development and tourism. Instead, it has moved some of the programs administered by the old department to Labour and Advanced Education, and it has formed a new Business Department.A major economic development report released last February supports some findings from the focus group.The report co-authored by Acadia University president Ray Ivany said the province is headed for an extended period of economic decline unless population and economic trends are reversed.The government accepted the report's findings and last year announced a 15-member commission to work on implementing its recommendations, which include strategies aimed at expanding immigration, research and development, and the revitalization of the province's traditional rural industries.OneNS Coalition is due to present a 10-year plan to meet population and economic renewal goals by December.Seven online focus groups were held between January and February of last year with 115 people, consisting of students, minimum-wage workers, older workers, mothers, employers, people who are new to the province and former residents who moved away for work.Participants were between the ages of 19 and 69. Some participants received between $100 and $125 for their time.Follow (at)AlyThomson on Twitter.

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