The region’s biggest industrial employer delivered an impassioned plea to young Maritimers.

Jim Irving says careers can be built close to home rather than heading west.

Hundreds of university and college students from all over Atlantic Canada and Maine attended Thursday’s event, many working in various J.D. Irving businesses.

“We say, if you can live at home, stay at home, and develop your career opportunities in this part of the country, and make competitive wages for this part of the country, there’s a lot to be said for that,” explains Jim Irving of J.D. Irving Ltd.

“In the end,” says university student Jillian Bulmer. “I would like to stay close to my home province of Nova Scotia or a sister province like New Brunswick. Family is a big part for me.”

Irving is spending millions of dollars modernizing mills in the region, the biggest upgrade in a generation.

However, like a lot of other employers in the Maritimes, the company is concerned about the next generation of workers heading west.”

Irving businesses have been on a hiring blitz to replace senior workers set for retirement.

“We’re seeing increased applications,” explains Jeff Green of J.D. Irving Human Resources. “We’re starting to get the right talent flowing through and we’re able to keep people here at home.”

Thursday’s message had a lot of young people weighing out all the options.

“They finished schooling, they have a large amount of debt, and out west you can make good money,” says university student James Sudul. “That’s known to everybody.”

A lot of industries are coming face-to-face with the realization that keeping young Maritimers at home is not only good for the region, but good for the business.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.