City economy makes gains

The city's economic development manager is seeing some encouraging signs in the latest labour market survey numbers for the city.

Even though the city's participation rate increased month-over-month, the unemployment rate dropped, Melissa Barcellos noted Thursday.

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"A lot of times, when a lot of people enter the labour market that drives the unemployment rate up but we're seeing the opposite happen," she said.

As of July, the city's unemployment rate stood at 5.8 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, down 0.1 percentage points from the month before, while the participation rate rose 1.1 points to 67.3 per cent.

Coinciding with the falls and rises on those fronts, the number of people holding down jobs rose by 800 to 48,700 while the total labour force in the city also rose by 800 to 51,700. Those seeking work held steady at 3,000 and those not seeking work declined by 800 to 20,700.

Barcellos suspects the influx of people due to the wildfires played a role.

"I don't have documented proof of this but I've been hearing quite a few stories of people moving to Prince George (to get away from the fires)," she said.

What kind of jobs they're landing is hard to pin down because there are no figures specific to the city on that aspect. The best available are for the Cariboo economic region, which stretches from Prince George to Williams Lake, and they show 700 new jobs in wholesale-retail and 500 in manufacturing.

"We don't know which portion of those jobs are actually in Prince George," Barcellos said.

On a related measure, the city issued 35 licences for new businesses in July, about on par with the monthly average for the city.

"I think that tells a positive story, that people continue to purchase businesses and start new businesses with their own money, so they're investing in our economy," Barcellos said.

It's also a sign the city is fostering a good environment for entrepreneurship, she added.

"There are quite a few organizations and services in place so that could have something to do with people who are going that route," Barcellos said.

Looking at construction, city hall issued a building permit last month for a new hotel, Pomeroy Inn and Suites, at 2700 Recplace Dr., a $10.5-million project, and one for a foundation for a research laboratory at the Wood Innovation and Design Centre at 1153 Fourth Ave., worth $4 million.

Other significant permits included one for a Montana's BBQ and Bar, $956,000, issued in July, and for a new Co-op gas bar, convenience store and car wash at 6749 Westgate Ave., totaling $2 million and issued in June.

The year-to-date total now stands at $73.8 million, compared to $90.4 million by the same point last year and $59.4 million by the end of July 2015.

New home construction has now accounted for $36.4 million of that total, spread over 92 projects, compared to $24.9 million over 89 projects by the same point last year and $20.1 million over 70 projects by the end of July 2015.

In July, eight newly-constructed single detached houses were sold in Prince George at an average price of $494,124. During the same month last year, 18 were sold in July 2016 but for a significantly lower average price of $453,434.

The number of people who passed through the Prince George Airport in July stood at 42,058, an 18-per-cent jump over the month before. The hike appears related to the wildfires, Barcellos said.

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