Tough times across region

Thousands of jobs disappeared, more people were unemployed, there was less capital investment and dozens of businesses went bankrupt in the Thompson-Okanagan in 2016.

The deluge of bleak news overshadowed bright spots in the region’s economy last year, leading to an overall downturn in the region’s economic growth.

The Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia released their regional check-up today, and the indicators don’t tell an encouraging story for the Thompson-Okanagan.

While an influx of people from Alberta and the Lower Mainland buoyed the population by 3,766, spurring a surge of new housing sales, starts and construction, big hits to the region’s manufacturing, transportation, and trades meant overall job losses.

In total, the Thompson-Okanagan development region lost 1,700 jobs in 2016, but the region’s manufacturing, transportation, and trade industries industries saw approximately 11,500 jobs disappear.

Somewhat puzzling was the fact that half of the 11,500 jobs lost in those industries were in wood product manufacturing. Considering the region’s softwood lumber production increased in 2016, a possible explanation could be that the manufacturing activity occurred in neighbouring regions like the Kootenays or Cariboo.

According to Karen Christiansen, a partner at Kelowna’s MNP LLP, dwindling transportation jobs, particularly in the trucking industry, could be due to the ripple effects from the wildfires and economic struggles in Alberta.

Another unexpected loss were retail jobs, which went down despite the fact that the region’s tourism activity remained busy and there was an overall increase of 6.4 per cent in retail sales across the province.

As a result of all the lost jobs, the region’s unemployment rate rose to its highest level since 2011. In 2016, 7.8 per cent of people in the Thompson-Okanagan didn’t have a job, significantly more than the provincial average of 6.0 per cent.

In addition, 25 business in the region reported bankruptcies in 2016, something that Christiansen says indicates the region has “deteriorated as a place to work and invest.”

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