Is Sask. economy too much of a good thing?

By Melanie Jacob, the Humboldt Journal January 15, 2014 - Saskatchewan experienced an increased economic growth rate for 2013, but there are some concerns that growth might be happening too quickly. "(The economic boom) makes affordable housing both a bigger challenge and an even more important need," said Mayor Malcolm Eaton. "Costs are increasing as a result of market conditions and shortage of certain types of housing."

Compared to 2012, Saskatchewan's economy has risen in terms of employment, population, sales, wages, and exports. It has also seen a decrease in employment insurance (EI) claims.

Employment growth has seen an increase of just over three per cent compared to the same eleven-month time span in 2012. The province's population is also at a record high of more than 1,114,000 since October 2013.

According to a government news release, "Saskatchewan has had the lowest unemployment rate in the country through the first 11 months of 2013" at just under five percent. Moreover, Saskatoon has the second lowest unemployment rate among major Canadian cities for that same period.

Industry and community leaders are not surprised by this growth. Many have been aware of the gradually growing economy over the last few years. Nevertheless, preparing for the growth has still been somewhat difficult.

"We need the labour force. There needs to be affordable housing, and we need the infrastructure. It's all tied together," said Eaton. "We've been working for some time and we have various types of housing at various types of planning stages."

Despite the need for infrastructure to accommodate Saskatchewan's growing population, Humboldt has yet to see too much of a downside to the increased growth rate.

Usually, when an economy grows too quickly, some negative consequences can be expected: inflation to keep up with demand and a sudden swell in immigrating workers. With a large increase in wages suddenly, this could also act as a shock to the system that would result in higher product prices and a decrease in working hours for employees.

In the case of Humboldt, however, the growth has been gradual and expected, which negates many of those potential effects, the rest being redundant due to the small scale of the city's economy.

"(The economic growth) has an effect all over the province, but we haven't really seen that yet in Humboldt. Things have been steady, although rental rates have gone up," said DonnaLyn Thorstein, executive director of Humboldt's Chamber of Commerce. "We are growing fast, but businesses have been able to keep up with the demand. They've fared very well and are knowledgeable and experienced at planning."

According to Thornstein, it's all dependent on supply and demand. City officials are planning well and the city has seen normal rates of inflation. Furthermore, BHP Billiton's Jansen project grew slower than expected, which allowed the City and businesses to plan and grow appropriately.

"We're working with developers to make sure growth is able to happen, both on the business side and the government side as well," said Thornstein.

With all this growth, there is also some concern that jobs will be going to foreign workers. According to Tim McMillan, Minister of Energy and Resources for the Saskatchewan government, that won't be the case.

"Immigration is industry-led. It's the industries that are hiring the majority of (foreign) workers," said McMillan. "When it comes to the provincial government hosting job fairs, it's the industry saying this is the type we need. It's targeted and purposeful immigration."

Also, according to McMillan, the Saskatchewan government is actually facing a labour force shortage. They're facing challenges attracting workers, which is why this economic growth is good for people who are looking for opportunity.

"There's an increase on both fronts (skilled and non-skilled labour), so both types of workers (foreign and domestic) are definitely needed," said McMillan. "We're trying to attract people to our province, people that may be underemployed."

Saskatchewan has also seen a 10 per cent decrease in EI claims in October 2013 as compared to the previous year. According to a government news release, there were 600 fewer initial and renewal claims. From the provincial government's perspective, this is a reflection of the province's growing economy.

"We had the largest reduction in claims in the country, which says a lot about the strength of our economy," said Economy Minister Bill Boyd. "The job opportunities are out there and it's helped to drive our economy forward in 2013 and give us optimism for next year."

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