Economy improving but challenges remain

Hiring and unemployment statistics point to rosier economic future

Employment numbers are heading in the right direction but businesses still face significant challenges, says a Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce spokesman.

ManpowerGroup recently released an employment outlook survey for the fourth quarter that indicated about seven per cent of Red Deer-area employers plan to hire in the quarter running October through December.

Two per cent of employers are anticipating cutbacks. Another 90 per cent of employers plan to maintain their payrolls. One per cent are not sure what their fourth-quarter plans are.

Before that, Statistics Canada pegged the local unemployment rate at 5.6 per cent, a huge improvement over the nearly 10 per cent posted a year ago.

Reg Warkentin, the chamber of commerce’s policy and advocacy manager, said the data shows “our economy is on the right track” but that comes with qualifiers.

“While we are happy about the progress being made, the extremely low projected hiring rate shows most businesses still face an uphill battle to achieve growth …”

Warkentin said that should come as no surprise when factoring in hurdles such as proposed tax changes by Finance Canada, other corporate and municipal tax increases, the looming Oct. 1 increase to Alberta’s minimum wage and the 50 per cent increase to the province’s carbon tax, which kicks in at the beginning of next year.

“It’s no wonder most businesses are struggling to create the growth required to hire more.”

There are signs that businesses are coming out of the recession leaner and workers have adjusted their strategies.

“Though energy prices are a long ways from where we would like to see them, business here has retooled and readjusted their operations to deal with this new economic reality,” he said. “Similarly, many Central Albertans have had to re-train and make changes to their professions and career trajectories.

“It’s been a tough slog, but the economic downturn has proved the resiliency and resourcefulness of Central Alberta workers and businesses.”

Randy Upright, chief executive officer of Manpower’s Alberta region, said Red Deer area is holding its own when stacked against and admittedly conservative national employment outlook rate of nine per cent and a Western Canada rate of 10 per cent.

The numbers are moving in the right direction and there is other evidence things are looking up.

“Anecdotally, it is certainly showing indications that our clients are robustly looking at their hiring intentions at this point in time.”

Employment outlook numbers declined dramatically as the economy sank into recession “so any upward movement is great movement at this point in time.”

“Certainly year over year this is a considerable increase in anticipated hiring expectations.”

pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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