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Alberta economy going “full steam ahead”: jobs minister

Central Alberta seeing steady economic improvement: chamber of commerce
Alberta Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Tanya Fir said Wednesday the province’s economy is bouncing back, thanks to an increase in newcomers, as well as rebounding hospitality and retail sectors. (Photo from Government of Alberta)

The Alberta government issued a rosy picture of the provincial economy on Wednesday, highlighting job growth, an increase in newcomers and rebounding hospitality and retail sectors.

It is an optimistic economic take shared largely by Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Robinson, who expects to see a steady improvement in the regional economy.

Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Tanya Fir said in a statement that the province’s economy “continued to charge full steam ahead in the third quarter.”

Over the last three months, Alberta led the nation in job growth, with 4,600 more jobs created, compared with a loss of 49,200 nation-wide, said Fir.

“Alberta’s remarkable job growth has been fuelled, in part, by an uptick in net migration, as workers flock to the province in unprecedented levels.”

Alberta had the highest net inflow of inter-provincial migrants in the country with a net gain of 9,857 people. Ontario supplied 6,281 of them, followed by Manitoba (1,305) and B.C. (1,090). Over the same period, 25,026 international residents chose Alberta as their new home.

Fir also pointed to the hospitality sector as an indicator that Alberta is on the rebound. Hotel occupancy has mostly returned to its pre-pandemic levels with 68 per cent occupancy. Alberta restaurants recorded a record $913.8 million in sales in July, up 16.1 per cent from July 2021.

“Similarly, retail sales increased to $8.1 billion, a 9.9 per cent increase from the same month a year before, second only to May 2022.”

Robinson said central Alberta is also seeing a steady return to prosperity

“We’re doing better certainly and progressively increasing in terms of activity and business.”

Given regional economic differences, not all sectors recover at the same pace. For instance, Alberta’s hotel recovery is likely more noticeable in major centres and tourist areas like Banff than in central Alberta, where the return to pre-pandemic levels will take longer.

In speaking with local restaurateurs, Scott said many are reporting the customers have returned and pre-pandemic lineups during prime meal times have returned at some places.

The recovery is not without its challenges. Supply chain issues remain, inflation is impacting bottom lines and worker shortages are a headache.

“Labour is a huge issue. Some businesses are struggling to find the right people to fill in roles,” he said. “There isn’t a sector in the country where labour is not the number one issue right now.”

It was a hot topic of conversation when chambers of commerce representatives from across the country, including Robinson, met for a conference last week.

It boils down to demographics. A large percentage of the workforce is at or near retirement age and the pool of younger workers is too small.

Canada is going to need to open its doors wider to immigrants if it hopes to meet its economic potential, he said.

The local chamber of commerce has done a deep dive on labour issues and expects to release the results of its research and provide some recommendations next week.

Scott said the nation’s long-term economic prognosis is good. “We just have so many things that the world needs.”