Most of the new jobs that attributed to overall 2017 employment growth in the Kootenays, were in the service industry. (Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash)

Kootenays outperform B.C. regions in job growth

Retail and hospitality jobs boosted 2017 Kootenay employment numbers ahead of other B.C. regions

Employment growth hit a five-year high in the Kootenays last year.

Overall employment rose to 71,900 with the addition of 4,500 new jobs, which is the region’s highest level since 2013.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that most of those jobs were not skilled positions and likely paid the low end of the wage scale.

Those figures are part of an annual economic report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of B.C. (CPABC) called the CPABC Regional Check-Up – Kootenays.

“Although our job growth was impressive last year, many of the new jobs created in the region were low-skilled positions,” said CPA Mike Calder in the association’s release. “So it’s not all that surprising that the share of our labour force with at least a post-secondary certificate or diploma fell for a second consecutive year to 65.8 per cent, below the provincial average.”

However, those low-skilled jobs upped the Kootenays overall employment growth by almost seven per cent in 2017, outperforming all other B.C. regions.

“The goods and service sectors added to employment growth, with the service sector adding 4,200 jobs,” Calder explained. “Although this is a sizable improvement for our region’s service sector, this still puts us at a level below the high of 55,400 service sector jobs we had in 2013.”

Between 2016 and 2017, employment in six of eleven Kootenay service industries expanded.

The top three were the trade industry, accommodation and food services, and industries referred to as “FIRE” (finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing).

The trade industry steadily added workers throughout 2017, primarily at the retail level, which the report states as, “consistent with the substantial increase in consumer spending reported at the provincial level, where sales increased in most retail store types.”

Interestingly, despite a temporary slowdown in areas that were affected by last summer’s wildfires, tourism to the region’s all-season attractions grew.

New jobs created in restaurants and pubs were responsible for most of the job growth in the accommodation and food services industry, and the region’s hotels also hired more workers.

“Employment growth helped push our unemployment rate down to 7.3 per cent in 2017,” Calder said. “This was the first decline since 2013.”

Further, strong commodity prices contributed to a good year for the region’s mining industry although parts of the forestry industry slowed in response to the U.S. lumber dispute.

Notably, pulp production was up due to increased international demand.

Although these dynamics helped set the stage for a moderate recovery in the Kootenay labour markets, Calder says that several indicators point to areas of weakness in the regional economy.

Accordingly, the report states, “the Kootenays remained a challenging place to live, work, and invest for some residents in 2017.”

Looking forward, labour market statistics show that overall employment in the Kootenays fell to 63,700 jobs by March 2018, with both the goods and services sectors losing workers.

Employment fell off in the construction and manufacturing industries, while health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and information, culture and recreation were responsible for most of the employment decline in the services sector.

The CPABC Regional Check-Up reports look at British Columbia’s eight development regions as a place to work, invest, and live. The reports are available online at: www.bccheckup.com.

The Kootenay Development Region is comprised of three Regional Districts: the Kootenay-Boundary, Central Kootenay, and East Kootenay. It accounts for nearly 3.1 per cent of the provincial population.

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