By Stan Mitchell
In 2011, the Cariboo’s economy continued the positive momentum that began in 2010. The recovery of BC's forestry and mining industries were contributing factors to our region’s economic growth last year, and the resurgence of these two industries resulted in increased employment and capital investment.
According to the BC Check-Up, Regional Edition, in 2011, the Cariboo’s labour market expanded for the second consecutive year, and while job growth did not match the magnitude of 2010's performance, our economy saw the addition of 900 new jobs; nine out of eleven services-producing industries reported employment gains.
However, the Cariboo’s mining and forest industries are facing challenges—the demand for commodities and natural resources is increasing both at home and internationally, but there is a scarcity of loggers, haulers, operators, and other skilled resource industry workers. As such, our goods-producing sector is feeling the pinch; employment in forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas dipped last year to reach the lowest level of the past decade.
One positive off-shoot of the worker shortage in our resource sector was increased job opportunities for young workers. In 2011, 1,800 young people moved to our region for work, and 95 per cent these individuals secured employment—a remarkable achievement. This in turn pushed the Cariboo’s youth unemployment rate down by 1.2 percentage points, to 12.3 per cent.
Our overall unemployment rate also dropped, reaching 7.5 per cent, a 0.5 per cent decrease over 2010. This was the third lowest unemployment rate in the province, after the Northeast at 4.9 per cent and the Mainland/Southwest at 7.3 per cent.
In contrast to last year, the value of major project investment jumped from $6.1 to $7.2 billion, when comparing the fourth quarters of 2010 and 2011. Although the bulk of investment dollars in the Cariboo were associated with mining developments, pipelines and energy generation comprised a fair share of this value.
In the last quarter of 2011, there were 21 projects valued at $2.6 billion in the proposal stage. Of these projects, four are slated to commence construction in 2012. The largest, a 24-megawatt power station proposed for McBride, is valued at $230 million and will generate power from biomass supplied by forestry cull piles and dead-standing and unmerchantable timber. The other significant project, the Bonanza Ledge Mine near Quesnel, is valued at $60 million and has received the green light from the Province to begin construction in 2012. Over a four-year period, the gold deposit is expected to produce 73,000 tonnes of ore per year.
Looking forward, the Cariboo’s economy will continue to build positive momentum, particularly as global demand for lumber and minerals increases, and solid growth is forecast in the near and long term for mining and oil and gas industries. However, challenges relating to the recruitment and retention of workers continue. In order to prevent labour market shortages from impacting business viability and major project development in our region, it is imperative that we focus on retaining workers in our region’s most viable industries.
Stan Mitchell is a chartered accountant with KPMG LLP in Prince George. The BC Check-Up report is available online at: www.bccheckup.com.
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