Central Okanagan reports show economic, job numbers not awful

Region's economy coping

Krista Mallory will start breathing easier once the passengers start flowing through Kelowna International Airport.

Mallory is the manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, which on Monday released its quarterly economic indicators report and its inaugural job market indicators report in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers, which represent the averages of 2020, suggest the Central Okanagan is doing better than most regions in the country but still needs rejuvenation in a couple of key areas.

The airport, of course, is one of them, because the pandemic resulted in a 63.7% drop in passengers from 2019 to 2020. That means key regional industries like tourism and hospitality are behind others when it comes to recovery.

“That shows us while the labour force is recovering, it’s not straight across the board and not every industry is recovering at the same pace,” Mallory said. “Those that depend on the visitor economy and face-to-face interaction, like personal service, hospitality and tourism, are certainly suffering, and that’s where we’ll be focusing our attention during this response phase.”

The jobs indicator report is rosy in comparison. The Central Okanagan currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.6%, and the labour force was down only 1.4% over the course of 2020 compared to the year prior. Another notable statistic is the population from Peachland to Lake Country grew 1.9% last year.

“The most encouraging numbers are the population growth and the labour force numbers,” Mallory said. “We’re seeing that people are looking to the Okanagan and we are really standing out as a region that is—while many businesses are still suffering—performing well comparatively to the province and the country.”

The number of job postings in 2020 was down 28.7%, but Mallory said that means job growth has slowed. Unemployment is low because most of the people who lost their jobs during the pandemic peak simply went back to work and the jobs weren’t posted. Mallory said job postings were down nearly 30% because there was record job growth in the region between 2017 and 2019.

“So what we’re really seeing there is a flatline in the number of people working," she said.

There was a 4.7% uptick in business licences last year, which is another positive sign for the Central Okanagan, but housing starts dropped 19.4% and building permit values plunged 33%.

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