FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — Premier David Alward has challenged each of the province’s businesses to make at least one new hire this year in efforts to stimulate New Brunswick’s sputtering economy — announcing on Wednesday a new job-creation subsidy.

The provincial government’s incentive program to encourage companies to hire postsecondary graduates straight out of school will reimburse businesses in the province reimbursed for 70 percent of a new employee’s wage, up to $10 an hour, on the condition that the salary of the new hire is $14 an hour or more.

The hires also must be permanent, full-time employees who have graduated from a postsecondary institution in the last four years.

The province has budgeted $13.5 million for the initiative, entitled the One-Job Pledge, but will consider extending the one-time offer to businesses for a longer term if it has the desired effect of turning the province’s economic fortunes around.

“In the face of slow global growth, hard work and education isn’t enough to deliver on progressive ideas and plans,” Alward said. “Today, I am asking New Brunswick employers to take the pledge to create one job and hire a recent graduate.”

He added that the initiative is in effort to “stimulate the creation of quality jobs, accelerate job growth in the province and create new career opportunities for our young people who would like to plant their roots here.”

Liberal Economic Development critic Roger Melanson said he supports the initiative, which he believes marries job opportunities with new graduates, but that it needs to be part of a larger job-creation strategy.

New Democrat leader Dominic Cardy criticized the initiative, saying it gives no protection to current workers who he said may now be let go to make way for subsidized workers.

Alward made the announcement at LuminUltra Technologies Ltd. in Fredericton, a company that has developed innovative biological monitoring technology with a staff of university grads.

“I’m a university graduate from the University of New Brunswick, and when I graduated about 10 years ago, the majority of my colleagues in chemical engineering ended up having to go elsewhere to be able to find work,” said Pat Whalen, LuminUltra’s president. “I strongly believe that this program is going to help us retain some of those best and brightest.”

The strategy also received the endorsement of the New Brunswick Student Alliance on Wednesday.

“If our educated graduates are unable to get jobs, we run the very real risk that we will lose their potential,” said student alliance president Stephen Spence, who represents a group of more than 16,000 students studying at the province’s universities.

“Reducing the time that labor-force entrants spend between graduation and their first job helps pay down debt, stimulate the economy and improve productivity,” Spence said. “We need to make sure that we are taking care of our graduates from beginning to end, and that’s why the one-job initiative is a good program for New Brunswick.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he was perplexed that the government is asking New Brunswickers to consider new ways to generate revenue, including tax increases, to reduce the deficit, but now also finding millions to give to businesses in “political handouts.”

“The other big problem with this is that it’s discriminatory,” Lacey said. “If you have been laid off during this current economic downturn and [have been out of school for more than four years], then you don’t qualify for this program.

“As a result, it’s going to be even more difficult for those people to stay in the province, create a family, and stay in New Brunswick.”

Lacey said he could only support the one-job initiative if the budget were already balanced and the money were then given in the form of a tax credit to businesses.