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CANADIAN CONTENT: From left, Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne, Canadian Expat Network founder Sean Mitton and Premier Shawn Graham pose together at the recent Intelligent Community Awards in New York.
CANADIAN CONTENT: From left, Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne, Canadian Expat Network founder Sean Mitton and Premier Shawn Graham pose together at the recent Intelligent Community Awards in New York.

A University of New Brunswick graduate is building an online community for Canadians working in the United States.

Steve Llewellyn of the Fredericton Daily Gleaner
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"This is really connecting people you don't know but have common interest and heritage," said Sean Mitton, president and founder of the Canadian Expat Network (www.canadianexpatnetwork.com), in a recent interview. "Every day I wake up thinking 'How can I connect Canadians?' "

Mitton, who graduated from UNB in 1992 with a business degree, moved to Raleigh, N.C., nine years ago during the high-tech boom.

Mitton said he bumped into other Canadians in the region, especially at hockey games. They would give away their identity by a Canadian flag on a car or by wearing a Roots sweater, he said.

He said he decided to see if other Canadians would be interested in networking. His first event, four years ago, was a get-together of 25 people at a pub to watch a playoff hockey game.

It was the beginnings of a group called Cansouth. It has more than 500 members in relatively small marketplace, he said, and on Canada Day about 100 people get together.

The potential for a formal network across the United States is huge, he said.

Mitton estimates there are about two million former Canadians living in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 150,000 Canadians working in the country on temporary work permits.

He said there are probably 80 Canadian volunteer networking organizations across the U.S. The goal of the Canadian Expat Network is to allow those groups and individuals to talk to each other about common experiences, he said.

The network had a soft launch a few months ago and 225 people signed up in the first few weeks, he said. The website allows customized searches, with 500 keywords for Canadians such as Tim Hortons, CBC and Canada Day, and about 100 Canadian cities.

He said he also wants to provide opportunities for things such as educational webcasts on immigration, tax planning and estate planning.

"At the end of the day, if you create more options for people, they are more confident about making decisions," he said.

Mitton plans a national launch during Canada Day.

For the launch there will be a Canada Day expat give away, with prizes such as two tickets on Air Canada, a Mike Weir autographed photo from the Masters at Augusta, and gifts from Maclean's magazine, the Calgary Flames and RBC Financial Group, he said.

"I am very excited about that," said Mitton. "I have had terrific response so far."

The network has security and privacy provisions and costs $25 a year, he said. Mitton said that's primarily to keep out troublemakers.

He said he also wants to let Canadians working abroad know what is going on at home.

"When you leave the country, a lot of times you lose track with what's going on at home," he said.

When a delegation from Fredericton and the New Brunswick government was in New York in May for the Intelligent Communities Forum, Mitton pitched his networking idea to Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne.

"There will be New Brunswick-specific content," said Mitton. "We have agreed in principle, but we are finishing some paperwork up."

The network is Mitton's full-time job. He has invested his money and it's a for-profit organization.

"I would really like to see it get around 10,000 to 20,000 members," he said. "It is going to take a little while to get there."

He hopes 1,000 people sign up as a result of the Canada Day launch.

Anthony Knight, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, met Mitton when he was in New York and said the network sounds like a good idea.

"Anything that will work to build a connection with expatriate New Brunswickers is a benefit," he said.

Any company considering expanding into the U.S. and setting up an office would want a variety of sources of information about working in that market, said Knight.

"There is no question that having people connect and share ideas would be of benefit to a professional who perhaps is somewhat isolated from colleagues," he said.

 

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