Tuesday September 02, 2014

Rurals need to share good economy


For all the talk about the Saskatchewan economy slowing down, it sure doesn’t look that way in of late.

Consider the good news that just keeps rolling in:

Employment numbers for March suggest Saskatchewan had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada for the 15th consecutive month — a mere 4.5-per-cent unemployment that’s well below the national average of 6.9 per cent.

Moreover, the number of people working in Saskatchewan hit a 522,000 in March — including a record 445,700 full-time employed people. In fact, for an amazing 28 months in a row now, we have seen year-over-year job numbers increases.

The government press release announcing the good news earlier this month also pointed to strong increases in specific occupation in the past five years. Since March 2009, construction jobs have increased 41 per cent (13,500 new jobs); professional, scientific and technical jobs have increased by 36 per cent (7,500 new jobs), and transportation and warehouse jobs grew by 17 per cent (4,100 new jobs).

The on-going employment numbers were quickly followed by news that Saskatchewan manufacturing saw a 12.8-per-cent increase in sales over February 2013 — $1.37 billion in overall sales.

By comparison with other provinces, this was the second highest year-over-year growth rate and almost four times the national average of 3.3 per cent.

But with a resource-based economy like ours, even such good numbers need to be viewed with two important questions in mind: “Can we expect this good news to continue?” and “Is this growth and economic success being relatively evenly distributed throughout the province?”

Both questions are particularly critical for rural Saskatchewan that can now add its struggles in getting a bumper crop to market to a long-standing list of economic and growth frustrations.

On the manufacturing front, one would hope that the rural Saskatchewan is holding its own, considering some of the true success stories are in agriculture-based industries.

The government’s statistics show that food manufacturing increased 19.8 per cent to $304 million in the past year while machinery manufacturing increased 8.6 per cent to $141 million. For smaller cities and towns that house many of these manufacturing industries, this is good news.

That said, such largely rural-based manufacturing only represent about a quarter of the total $1.37 billion in manufacturing, suggesting that urban enterprises are getting the lion’s share of this recent success.

The same can be said for our job growth.

For example, if one looks at those areas that have vastly improved in the past five years — construction, professional, scientific and technical jobs and transportation and warehouse — most of that work is located in the cities. Similarly, the largest industry employment gains in the past year were in utilities, transportation and warehousing, finance, insurance and real estate and accommodation and food services. Many of these would also be city-based jobs.

Specific to the bigger cities, Regina’s employment increased by 2,100 jobs and Saskatoon’s employment was up by 5,400 jobs in March compared with a year early. This is great news for the cities and Regina’s unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent was the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in Canada.

But there’s little doubt the two biggest cities are still gobbling up most of the jobs and growth.

Meanwhile, good-paying rural jobs in rural Saskatchewan are still subject to the whims of the resource sector or are often involving public service where taxpayers demand less jobs employment.

Admittedly, a high tide floats all boats, so the entire province is doing better because of this on-going surge. Even off-reserve aboriginal employment continues to grow … although unemployment on rural reserves remains stagnate.

That said, most of Saskatchewan’s good economic news seems to be coming out of the cities. And that may be a problem.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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