Members of Saint John council's growth committee want the municipality to play a much bigger role in attracting immigrants to the city.

It's part of the new committee's mandate to grow the local economy, population and tax base.

Nb-hi-Don-Darling

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says the city needs to reverse a population decline that has been happening since the 1950s. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Mayor Don Darling says it is critical that Saint John start to grow. He notes the population has declined since the early 1950s, and the city's geographical area has increased tenfold.

"We need results," Darling said. "We need action."

'I think they've been waiting for this.' - Don Darling, Saint John mayor

To that end on Tuesday the growth committee convened a panel of representatives from community groups charged with supporting new arrivals along with provincial officials responsible for the immigration and refugee files.

"I think they've been waiting for this," said Darling. "They've been waiting for the city to step into a role where they're co-ordinating and pulling folks together."

Among those involved was Randy Hatfield, the executive director of the Human Development Council.

Hatfield said his organization has secured federal funding to establish a local immigration partnership, a group charged with developing a strategy to bring more immigrants to the region.

A project manager is being hired and the program will launch April 1.

'Watershed year'

Randy Hatfield

Randy Hatfield says immigrants will come to Saint John if there are jobs and stay if they find economic security. (CBC)

"[This]

 is going to be a watershed year," said Hatfield.

He says organizations like the Saint John YMCA, with its newcomer program, already have staff in place to assist refugees and immigrants, and there is solid support at the provincial and federal level.

The difficulty will be getting new arrivals to stay in the region, he said.

"Certainly the economic piece is critical," said Hatfield. "You can get people here if there are jobs. People will stay here if there's economic security."

​Syrian influx

Last year, the Saint John YMCA, with more than 600 volunteers, helped 535 government-assisted, mostly Syrian refugees.

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Angelique Simpson of the Saint John YMCA's newcomer connections is glad to see the city make a more focused effort to attract immigrants. (CBC)

"We pulled off the impossible in 2016," said Angelique Simpson, the vice-president of newcomer connections at the Saint John YMCA.

She has nothing but praise for the immigrant initiative being taken on by city council's growth committee.

"Something like this needs to be owned in the community and not at higher levels of government," said Simpson.

"It needs to be truly ground up stuff, and the city is very uniquely positioned to be able to offer that."