By Stan Mitchell
In 2012, the Cariboo’s economy experienced a second consecutive year of growth.
Continued demand for our mining and forestry products has helped bolster our economy, which, in turn, has led to increases in local spending, business growth, housing development, and employment opportunities – for both locals and skilled workers from other regions.
According to the BC Check-Up, Regional Edition, last year the Cariboo’s labour market expanded by 4,000 new jobs, bringing overall regional employment to 85,200. This growth surpassed the pre-recession high set in 2007, and the addition of 6,300 new jobs in the goods-producing industry offset the accumulated losses of the past five years.
In 2012, the value of provincial softwood lumber exports grew for the third consecutive year, increasing by 9.7 per cent. A rebound in United States housing starts saw lumber prices surge, while the extension of the U.S. softwood lumber deal, and British Columbia’s victory in the softwood lumber dispute, freed up money set aside by B.C. forest companies for penalties.
This was excellent news for our forestry and mining sector, which last year alone saw the addition of 3,200 new workers. Detailed statistics show that employment in both sub-industries expanded: forestry and logging by 2,200 jobs, and mining by 1,000 jobs.
However, our region’s forest industry is not without its challenges – there remains a scarcity of loggers, haulers, operators, and other skilled resource industry workers. Job declines in the warehousing and transportation industries also impact resource exports, while competition for a limited supply of truck drivers in Northern B.C. has impacted the logging industry. In an effort to alleviate the problem, the FIRST Logger Training Program was launched in the Cariboo last year, targeting log and chip drivers; to date, 100 per cent of the drivers have been hired.
A note of concern is that while our overall unemployment rate dropped, youth unemployment (ages 19 to 24) in our region grew to reach 14 per cent – exactly double that of the general rate. The increased major project development in our region will result in increased labour demand and it is crucial that our youth receive the proper education and training so they can become skilled workers who have opportunities to capitalize on this growth.
According to the BC Major Projects Inventory, eight projects valued at $788 million are set to proceed next year – a mix of mining, energy, and commercial development.
Three of the projects poised to go ahead next year involve the conversion of wood waste and beetle-killed wood into various forms of energy. These include: Global Bio-Coal Energy’s Production Plant, valued at $30 million, ecoTECH’s Biomass Project valued at $140 million, and the Alterna Biocarbon Manufacturing Facility valued at $15 million.
Looking forward, as global demand for lumber and minerals increases, the Cariboo’s economy should continue to build positive momentum. However, challenges relating to the recruitment, training, and retention of workers, in particular, young workers continue.
In order to prevent labour market shortages from impacting business viability and major project development in our region, it is imperative we focus on both retaining, and increasing jobs 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.