Chamber CEO hits back at job claims

Red Deer unexpectedly became the poster child for Alberta’s tanking economy in a speech by Edmonton’s chief economist on Wednesday.

Red Deer unexpectedly became the poster child for Alberta’s tanking economy in a speech by Edmonton’s chief economist on Wednesday.

“Look at Red Deer,” said John Rose, at BUILDEX Edmonton, a large trade building industry show. “What a mess. Over one in 10 jobs has disappeared in 12 months.

“They’ve got real problems,” said Rose, who was drawing from a Statistics Canada employment update released last Friday.

News travels fast and it wasn’t long before Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Tim Creedon had seen a link to the speech and started doing his own investigating.

Statistics Canada’s latest numbers show Red Deer economic region’s workforce dropped to 117,500 from 127,900 over the year ending in February, a drop of 8.13 per cent. The number of employed in the region shrank 11.4 per cent from 121,600 to 107,700.

However, the number of unemployed here rose by only 3,500 workers to 9,800, said Statistics Canada.

“The numbers aren’t the whole picture,” said Creedon.

In January, local businesses were asked what kind of year they were expecting and 60 per cent said same as last year, with almost 24 per cent predicting a slightly better year than last year.

“I don’t see Red Deer as being in a huge mess at the moment. I see it as having some substantial challenges but I’m not getting the feedback that we’re in dire straights.”

Some job migration is expected in the Red Deer region, which has always had a mobile population with many workers who live here but work elsewhere.

Creedon has been hearing that some workers are moving on, and rising vacancy rates back that up.

However, that worker movement does not necessarily mean local jobs were lost.

It is difficult to say whether the bad publicity will have an impact on how the area is viewed.

Creedon said the local economic development organization Access Prosperity is getting the message out that Red Deer is a good place to invest.

“We all accept that oil and gas is in a downturn but (agriculture) is doing extremely well. We’ve been working on some major investment in the Ag sector through Access Prosperity.”

Reg Warkentin, the chamber’s policy co-ordinator, said Red Deer has long been an entry point for businesses’ new people.

“Relatively speaking, it’s always had a bit of transient workforce.”

While losing any number of jobs is not good news, there are many positive economic signs in the region, such as the recent announcement of a $30-million grain elevator complex in Innisfail and Nova’s recent plant upgrade.

Warkentin certainly wouldn’t call the economic region a mess.

“No doubt, we’re suffering from a cyclical downturn in commodity prices, but you don’t have to look too far to realize there are a lot of good things going on here too.”