Economic tide turning for Calgary and Edmonton: Conference Board of Canada

A new economic outlook says gradually rising oil prices will put an end to two years of recession in Calgary and Edmonton.

The Conference Board of Canada’s Metropolitan Outlook: Spring 2017 projects economic growth of 2.3 per cent in Calgary and 2.4 per cent in Edmonton for 2017. “Following two years of declines, the tide is turning,” said Alan Arcand, associate director of the Centre for Municipal Studies at the CBOC.

“Oil prices have recovered somewhat from the lows reached in February 2016, and while energy investment in Alberta is expected to remain sluggish this year, oil production is set to rise. This will support growth in most major industries in both cities.”

The think-tank report projects Calgary will see economic growth for the first time in three years. The report says the 2.3 per cent expansion should allow the Calgary economy to add 8,800 jobs this year and a further 10,100 in 2018. That would reverse a decline in employment of 12,500 in 2016.

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Those new jobs would push Calgary’s unemployment rate down from the 22-year high of 9.4 per cent in 2016 to 8 per cent by next year.

According to the report, the slow rise in oil prices should be enough to aid Calgary’s struggling energy sector, which has endured major head office layoffs since 2014. Still, the growth in the energy sector won’t be enough to offset the downtown office vacancy rate, which hit 25 per cent at the end of 2016.

Thursday’s report says “it will take several years to absorb all the available office space and that will keep a lid on office market investment for some time.” Along with a projection that housing starts will fall to an eight-year-low of 9,000 units this year before a slow recovery begins next year, the board says a recovery for Calgary’s construction sector will be delayed until 2018.

The report says the high oil prices will directly benefit Edmonton’s resources sector, which in turn will fuel a turnaround in the city’s manufacturing sector.

The construction industry in the provincial capital is expected to bounce back from consecutive annual double-digit declines with increased non-residential and infrastructure investment more than offsetting a third straight drop in housing starts.

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The services sector in the Edmonton region is also set to improve starting this year. According to the report, “With employment and disposable income expected to rise, consumers should slowly increase spending.”

That will lead to modest growth in wholesale and retail trade, accommodation, food services and arts, entertainment and recreation. The public sector in Edmonton is expected to continue to support economic growth over the near term, but with a more modest contribution.

Toronto is expected to post the fastest-growing metropolitan economy this year with expansion of 2.7 per cent.


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