Moderate growth this year, says SREDA

By Scott Larson, The StarPhoenix, March 19, 2014 - While Saskatoon may not hit the high water mark of 6.1 per cent GDP growth that was accomplished in 2013, this year is shaping up to produce healthy growth, according to an economic overview put out by the Saskatoon Regional Economic Authority (SREDA).

"I think we could still be in the three to four per cent (growth range) this year," said Jim George, SREDA's vice-president of business development. "I do feel positive the economy still has lots going for it, but we have some things to figure out."

SREDA's report is a compilation of statistics taken from a number of agencies coupled with analysis.

"We try to provide our members with a summary of what happened last year," George said. "And then talk about what we think will go on in the current year."

Last year was a record across a number of economic fronts.

The city's real GDP hit a record $16 billion in 2013 fuelled by major sectors like agriculture, mining, and oil and gas which grew 16.2 per cent.

More than a billion dollars in building permits was issued by the city, 11,000 jobs were created (almost all fulltime), unemployment fell to 4.2 per cent from 5.6 per cent, retail sales totalled $6.4 billion in 2013 and about 8,500 working age individuals moved to the Saskatoon region.

"The growth that we saw in 2013 I think exceeded everyone's expectations," George said, adding, "We have several different sectors that are propelling us forward."

But there are roadblocks and concerns on the horizon.

Most notable is the continued skilled labour shortage that is a barrier to future growth.

"Our labour issue is our Achilles heel," George said. "That will be one of our constraints on growth. We already see it in different projects being pushed out."

He said the answers to labour problem will mostly be found within the province.

"I think we do have to rely on the talent we have coming out of our schools," he said. "And we need to really focus on the First Nations segment, and I see some really positive signs there." Housing starts will also fall off the record pace set in 2012.

Total housing starts were down 20 per cent in 2013 with 2,980 new starts compared to 3,753 starts in 2012.

While that is a significant year-over-year decline, it is still high by historical standards coming in around the same level as 2011.

"We will see some moderation," George said. "I think (starts) will stay around the 3,000 mark.

"Housing prices are up, so affordability will be more of an issue this year than last year."

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