HIRING intentions among Manitoba small businesses are at their highest level since 2009, even though optimism among the province's business owners is lower than in most other provinces, according to a new survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
In its latest monthly Business Barometer report, released Thursday, the CFIB said more than a quarter (27 per cent) of Manitoba small businesses surveyed last month indicated they intend to hire more full-time workers in the second quarter this year.
"That level of hiring has not been seen since 2009," said Janine Carmichael, the federation's Manitoba director. It's five per cent higher than in January, despite the fact the small business optimism index in the province is the third-lowest in the country.
The federation said Manitoba's index remained unchanged in February at 63.4, well below the national average of 66.2 and nearly eight points below Alberta's country-leading 71.0 rate.
CFIB spokeswoman Marilyn Braun-Pollon said hiring intentions are likely rising because the optimism index has been gradually improving since last October, when it bottomed out at 57 points. It had steadily declined since the start of 2012.
The survey found that while hiring intentions are rising, 49 per cent of Manitoba small businesses cited a shortage of skilled labour as their top operating challenge. Braun-Pollon said that came as no surprise.
"It's been the main operating challenge for some time."
She said a Skills Summit the Premier's Economic Advisory Council hosted Thursday hopefully was able to generate ideas to address the problem.
"This is an issue that governments can't solve on their own," she said. "It takes all of the stakeholders talking about the issues and seeing what the solutions are."
The survey found tax and regulatory costs still rank as the top cost constraint for Manitoba small businesses. It was cited by 63 per cent of the respondents.
Braun-Pollon said that's also been a long-standing concern, and hopefully the next provincial budget will include some measures to reduce both the tax and regulatory burden.
-- Murray McNeill