March 30, 2017

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'Diverse' city economy impresses nationally

DESPITE whatever else might be affecting regional economies in North America, there is no indication Winnipeg’s economic performance is about to alter from its solid, steady growth rate.

The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting that economic growth in Winnipeg will put it in the top four Canadian cities again this year after being surpassed by only Vancouver and Toronto in 2015.

Alan Arcand, the associate director of the board’s Centre for Municipal Studies, said, "Winnipeg’s diverse economy continues to foster stable and solid growth and generate a healthy number of new jobs."

Winnipeg continues to hold its own as most sectors contribute to growth, even if it is not near the four per cent range experienced in Toronto and Vancouver.

The GDP is forecast to increase by 2.5 per cent in 2016 and 2.3 per cent in 2017, according to the autumn metropolitan outlook, which was released Monday.

That was preceded by 2.8 per cent growth in 2015 — white-hot for Winnipeg’s traditionally stable growth rate, — which was driven by record housing starts that are expected to decline by 20 per cent this year.

"It will still be above the 20-year average," Arcand said. "You are seeing a decline, but there’s still a decent amount of activity on the residential side."

Arcand said the step back in residential construction this year will be partially offset by non-residential work, including the $400-million True North Square; the $200-million Seasons retail/hotel/office/residential development at Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway, which includes the $35-million Hilton Garden Inn Winnipeg South; the $60-million development at Red River College; the southwest transitway and public-sector infrastructure work.

The brisk residential startup sector in 2015 helped produce the fastest increase in the employment rate in 17 years.

The board is forecasting employment to grow by 0.9 per cent this year and 2.1 per cent next year. It’s expected to create more than 26,000 jobs during the 2015-17 period, with the unemployment rate forecast to fall to 5.7 per cent in 2017 from six per cent in 2015.

Some of Winnipeg’s largest manufacturing companies are expected to continue to maintain healthy growth in the sector, coming in at two per cent this year — more than twice the national rate of about 0.8 per cent.

Solid growth is anticipated at New Flyer Industries and its coach division, Motor Coach Industries.

Also contributing are substantial new contracts at Magellan Aerospace and the $26-million expansion at the General Electric airplane jet engine-testing facility in Winnipeg.

Arcand said only the information and cultural industries sector will not contribute to the growth of Winnipeg’s economy this year.

In addition to being the smallest of 11 sectors measured in the report, its relative economic performance is weakening across the country as legacy media industries are declining because of the Internet’s popularity.

"Information and culture has been pretty weak across the board," he said.

"Although employment (in the sector) may up in 2016, it is pretty volatile, and it’s coming off a pretty big fall in 2015. The trend is on the decline… and smaller digital startups are not fully offsetting what is happening in the traditional media industries."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Martin Cash.

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