Employment trends look good for city

Labour market expert optimistic Nanaimo is at beginning of a new, positive employment trend.

Nanaimo job hunters could start to see more help wanted signs.

That’s the view of Woody Hayes, spokesman for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C., who is optimistic Nanaimo is on the cusp of a positive employment trend thanks to construction activity and foreign investment.

A recently released report from Statistics Canada shows Nanaimo’s unemployment rate is sitting at a three-month average of 4.2 per cent as of May, which is down from 5.7 per cent over the same period last year and lower than the provincial average.

While employment outside the region has accounted for some gains, labour market experts are also giving credit to the Harbour City, which has seen its own influx of jobs because of new companies, construction activity and exports. In the first five months of this year, construction values for single-family homes reached $52 million or double the planned investment  compared to this time last year. The city has also seen new employers, including Cabela’s, an outdoor retail store that plans to hire 150 employees from the area.

Experts like Hayes anticipate more employment in the coming year.

“I think 2014 is looking much stronger [than last year],” Hayes said. “You are actually seeing reports coming out now that you are seeing an uplift in the number of building permits.”

“We are seeing the interest of international investors in Nanaimo, which will create jobs,” Hayes said. “I don’t see a great deal of negatives out there.”

Hayes, who is also a partner in the accounting firm Hayes Stewart Little & Company, said Vancouver Island’s boom and bust is linked to retirees who migrate to the area and create demand for services and homes. With a stronger national economy, he sees more people making their way here. The construction industry – a big employer on Vancouver Island – has been in the doldrums for almost six years and seems to be gaining some traction in the city, he said, adding it’s a “very positive direction” from an employment perspective.

Steve Arnett, chief executive officer of Nanaimo Youth Services Association, said there’s no question the job market has improved even from a year ago. He’s noticed signage in a number of entry-level places. And Sasha Angus, chief executive officer of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, has been encouraged by the trend toward more full-time employment, which he said means companies are getting new business.

“We’ve also seen our workforce, our participation rate … back up to where it was three or four years ago and what we are starting to see is a bit of an uptick in economic activity,” he said, adding the challenge facing the city now will be attracting and retaining workers to fill future job openings.