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Changes to Provincial Nominee Program directs more clients towards rural communities

Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Kensington, has seen his office become a busier place recently thanks to changes to the province’s PNP entrepreneurship program.
Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Kensington, has seen his office become a busier place recently thanks to changes to the province’s PNP entrepreneurship program. - Colin MacLean

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Some of P.E.I.’s smaller municipalities are finding their offices a lot busier these days thanks to recent changes to the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Kensington, said recently that in the two months since the changes came into effect, he’s done 16 interviews with potential immigrants interested in getting a letter of endorsement from the Town of Kensington.

“It’s been a positive experience thus far, for sure,” said Baker.

The changes to the entrepreneurship stream of the PNP came into effect earlier this year and were intended to get more clients to start businesses and put down roots in Island communities other than Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall where they have tended to settle.

Prior to the program changes, the PNP operated on a first-in, first-out system. It now uses a ranked system where top scoring applicants are invited to proceed within the program.

Unlike the previous system, people applying to the program can now seek endorsements from a list of Island municipalities. An endorsement from a community outside the greater Charlottetown area is worth more points, which can result in a higher ranking, than an endorsement from within the capital area.

Summerside, despite being a city and the second-most populous municipality in the province, is technically a rural area under the PNP program. As such, it has joined Kensington and other communities in seeing a big bump in immigrant investor interest.

Coun. Brent Gallant, while giving a business update at a recent Summerside council meeting, said the city’s department of economic development has been busy dealing with potential candidates.

“There have been some very strong candidates looking to establish (here),” said Gallant.

“I know our staff have been working hard, not only directly in meetings, but supporting clients through tours to local schools and municipal buildings, networking with local businesses and constant follow up on questions from clients after they’ve left. Our team is working hard to stay in constant contact with these potential new business residents and we feel strongly will be the net beneficiary of this new program.”

Jamie Aiken, executive director for Island Investment Development Inc., part of P.E.I.’s office of immigration, said the provincial government is pleased by the early results the changes have brought.

“We’ve been pretty encouraged to see our potential applicants reaching out to these communities,” said Aiken.

But while the smaller municipalities are welcoming the new economic interest, they are also facing an increased workload on their limited staff.

Summerside has a department that can work with these interested clients, but in Kensington there is only Baker.

He estimated the changes to the program have added about an hour of work to each of his days in the office. That’s time spent responding to emails, phone calls, having meetings or filling out followup paperwork for the province.

“It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still an issue,” he said.

“At its base, the program is a good one. But again, it’s how we manage that additional workload is the issue.”

Aiken pointed out that no municipality is obligated to participate in the program or issue endorsement letters. They set their own priorities on the matter. For those communities who do participate, the province is available to offer what assistance it can, he said.

But from Baker’s perspective, coming from a small community hungry for economic development, it’s not an easy decision to turn down a potential opportunity just because your time might be stretched thin.

“For what reason would we say no to potential new residents?” he said.

“(Clients) are required to bring a business forward to the community.

“We want businesses that we feel are required in the community and we feel will succeed in the long-term. Whether or not we’re the most appropriate people to say that – I don’t know. But that’s kind of the position we’re put in,” he added.

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