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David Chaundy is the Senior Economist with APEC. (CBC)

The number of people in New Brunswick who work for themselves has stalled.

That's according to a new report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.  It says the decline follows steady growth in the sector during 1980s and 1990s, and bucks a nation-wide trend.

"It is a bit of a mystery to exactly why we are not seeing that growth here where we are seeing somewhat stronger growth in Canada," said David Chaundy, the Senior Economist with APEC. "It's not that self-employment has taken a hit across the country."

Chaundy said the numbers reflect challenges hitting key industries in the province — sectors such as fisheries, agriculture, and forestry.

The province of New Brunswick counted fewer than 41,000 self-employed people in 2011. That's slightly below its peak of nearly 46,000 in 1997.

Some of the reasons for the drop stem from big box stores squeezing out smaller retailers.

"A healthy economy is going to have a good mix of small business and large businesses," said David Campbell, an economist in Moncton. "So if you start to see a drop-off in the number of people that own their own businesses, it's a negative effect on the economy."

Campbell says the aging workforce may also be a factor. He notes self-employment is for the most part for young professionals.

Among APEC's other findings, more men are self-employed in the region than women.