British Columbia ranks second only to Alberta in terms of job gains since June 2011, and the Northeast plays a huge role in that.
B.C. has added 53,000 jobs in the last year, which compares to 55,400 jobs added in the province next door. This reduced the province’s unemployment rate to 6.6 per cent from 7.2 at this time last year.
“Our government is attracting new investment in times of global economic turbulence, and we are diversifying our exports like never before,” said Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
“We are making smart investments in our infrastructure, and working hard to ensure British Columbians have the right training and skills for good jobs to support their families.”
With an unemployment rate that currently sits at 3.9 per cent, high employment is nothing new in the Northeast. According to 2011 labour market statistics, of the 51,400 people over the age of 15, 6,000 were employed in forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas in this region – with the majority of those being in oil and gas.
The Northeast is the only gas-producing region in the province.
Though low unemployment is positive, there are issues that can arise.
Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier said that the news of the province’s receding unemployment rates is “good.”
“When you look at the recent announcements around unemployment, Dawson Creek is ranked up there with the lowest unemployment right now,” he said. “That is great news.
“Basically everybody who’s looking for a job can find a job,” said Bernier. “When you look around the province, we’re kind of the shining star as northeastern British Columbia with low unemployment and as the hub driving the rest of the province.
“It’s kind of exciting to be up here.”
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman echoed Bernier’s sentiment.
“We’re happy because anyone who is able and willing to work is working,” she said.
She noted the downside to this is that hiring practices change.
“It’s very difficult to retain staff when there are other opportunities,” Ackerman said.
“People will often move (from job to job) and the cost of staff turnover for businesses is expensive because you take the time to train them, you take the time to integrate them into the culture of your business and they could easily get scooped and off to another company.”
She said that there are “strategies” that businesses can employ to recruit and retain employees.
“There are certain things they can do so the person feels like they’re really being accepted into the workplace and that kind of reinforces their commitment,” she said.
Bernier said one of the issues in Dawson Creek is the cost of living.
“The downside of a hot economy is the price starts going up,” said Bernier.
“Basically what it’s doing as an economic boom in the community… when there’s more jobs, you start seeing the price of rent go up,” he said.
“Basically, there’s zero vacancy in our apartments.” Despite the lack of vacancy, many people are moving to the region.
“We’re starting to see a real shift in our community,” said Bernier. “When you look at so many new families, new people coming to our community looking for work.”
He noted that many of these people are coming from more depressed areas of the province and across the country.
“What happens is those people start moving to communities like ours for work,” said Bernier. “One of the big struggles we have locally is when you hear people saying the affordability for rental is getting quite high, but people have jobs.”
Conversely, he said, where rentals are cheap in other areas, there aren’t enough jobs.
He said new people translate into new community investments.
“Dawson Creek, in the last three years, has had over $150-million in private investments, housing starts and hotels,” he said. “You’re staring to see, not only a lot more people coming here for work, but a lot of investors coming to the community to capitalize on that as well.
“From tax revenue to growth of the community, they’re all positives,” Bernier said.
Ackerman noted that because the region is hyped to have so many jobs, people sometimes move here without a plan.
“There’s been a lot of work done by several really good organizations in this community to ensure that those thinking about relocating here have all their ducks in a row before they come up,” she said.
“So when they do come up, they can go straight out to work rather than relying on the community services, or the social services that are here in the community.”
She noted that the Chamber of Commerce was part of a project that created relocation packages, including guidelines, for people interested in moving to Fort St. John.
“What they should consider (in terms of) housing and jobs,” she explained.
Ackerman said the City has also worked hard to plan for growth in the community through the official community plan and new development guidelines.
“Looking at those in a holistic package, we are moving towards building a resilient community,” she said.
As the area booms, houses and businesses are built quickly and roads need to keep up.
“In a new development, the developer is responsible for building those roads,” she said. “They are inspected and approved by the City.”
Because developers build roads, Fort St. John is able to “build a reserve of funds to ensure that future upgrades can be done.”
Bernier said roads costs are the responsibility of the developer in Dawson Creek as well.
“What happens is that as the community grows, you do need more infrastructure in place,” he said. “There’s more roads to plow; there’s more water and sewer lines to maintain.”
Ackerman noted that the snow-clearing program in Fort St. John is “envied by other Northern Communities.
“There’s a lot of cities…that do not clear residential streets,” she said.
Bernier noted that there are worse things than having to maintain infrastructure.
“Those are kind of good problems to have in the sense that your community’s growing so you’re able to plan a little bit and work with it,” Bernier said.
“It’s better than the other side of the equation where you already have all of the infrastructure in place, and you don’t have people coming to your community to help pay for it.”
He also noted that in addition to jobs, there are also options in terms of education in this region.
“There’s so many opportunities for people to better themselves here,” he said. “You know that if you go to school and get a trade, or a Class 1 driver’s license for a semi, or a construction ticket, you know that you’ll be employed the day you walk out.”
With new projects on the rise, unemployment rates in this region will likely maintain.
Ackerman said, “I just don’t see it slacking off anytime soon.”