FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward says innovation will be the "rocket fuel" for the province's sputtering economy.

During his state-of-the-province address Thursday night, Alward said his government can help by creating the right business climate, but it won't fill the role of entrepreneurs.

"Governments are not job creation experts and we aren't a bank," he said in a speech to a business audience in Fredericton, broadcast live on television.

He said his government is helping businesses by introducing changes to lower natural gas distribution rates.

The premier went on to say he is optimistic about the economic spinoffs from the $25-billion warship contract recently won by Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, and he said thousands of jobs could be created with further development of New Brunswick's natural gas industry.

However, Alward warned that the province's export-oriented economy remains tied to the United States and other locations of economic uncertainty around the world.

As well, he responded to the significant public backlash to the ongoing development of the province's shale gas industry.

"We believe new jobs and growth can only be achieved without the sacrifice of our province's clean water, clean air and clean soil," Alward said.

New Brunswick is on track for its fourth consecutive annual deficit and a net debt that's expected to top $10 billion.

The government has ordered all departments to reduce spending, but earlier this month auditor general Kim MacPherson said more drastic cuts are needed to improve the province's fiscal health.

Alward said his government is continuing to streamline government services.

"We must make significant changes to how we spend public money if we are to balance the budget and continue to deliver services that are affordable and sustainable."

He said a business panel will be appointed next week to improve the government's accountability and business practices.

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