Manitoba's job-creation performance in 2012 was so good people are talking again about what it could take for Manitoba to become a "have" province.
After significant swings up and down in September and October, the province produced two consecutive months of 5,000-plus new jobs to end the year with 11,900 additional people working in the province.
"The December numbers are surprisingly strong," said Michael Benarroch, dean of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.
"The participation rate is as high as it's been since 2007. People are coming back into the labour force. The population has been growing steadily for five to six years and in spite of the population growth, we were able to create a sufficient number of jobs for those people. It's really positive for our province."
The surge in December brought the unemployment rate down to 5.2 per cent at the end of the year. It had been as high as 5.6 per cent as recently as October.
Even though there is some caution heading into 2013 because of a provincial deficit, the recent strength in the employment scene has some experts thinking Manitoba could be on to something.
"The private sector is growing at a time when the public sector is being careful," Benarroch said. "In a perfect world, we have both at the same time but that's not how things always work."
John McCallum, an economist at the U of M, has been a sharp critic of the performance of the provincial economy, which he believes is too reliant on the public sector. Even he's encouraged by strong workforce activity.
"I think if you could ring me up in three years and say that we had put up four years of two per cent job growth per year, then things would be looking a whole lot better here," he said.
Manitoba's employment grew by 1.9 per cent in 2012 compared with 1.8 per cent across the country.
The construction industry added 3,500 positions in December, Statistics Canada said.
For the year, the sector grew by 5,700 jobs, a 13.3 per cent increase.
Industry officials realize things have gone well but are taking nothing for granted. There's concern large public-sector projects that have fuelled the growth are ending.
Peter Withoos, vice-president of the Winnipeg Construction Association and part of the ownership group of M.D. Steele Construction Ltd., said, "We were somewhat running out of work toward the end of last year. Some of the big projects are winding down but at the same time, there are a couple of major projects coming on stream soon."
He was referring to the $240-million Women's Hospital at Health Sciences Centre and a new hospital being tendered in Selkirk.
"They will be built during the next two years and will employ quite a few people," Withoos said.
When it comes to the manufacturing sector there are no big projects on the horizon. But the U.S. economy is picking up and Manitoba exports south of the border enjoy a double-digit increase.
The sector was devastated by the 2008 recession but it has stabilized somewhat, finishing the year with 600 fewer jobs in Manitoba, down one per cent.
Still, there is little expectation for major job creation.
"It is going to continue to be flat or to shrink a little over time," said Ron Koslowsky vice-president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
"That is a function of better technology, better processes, better methods of doing things. When you look at productivity that is what you want."
On the national front, the economy created 40,000 jobs in December -- all of them full-time -- and drove the unemployment rate to its lowest in four years.
Ontario accounted for about three-quarters of the jobs added across Canada in December and almost all of the other provinces either saw gains or stayed even. The only exception was Nova Scotia, which lost 5,000 jobs.
"We've seen pretty good numbers in four of the last five months, so it does look like there is a bit of strength percolating up late in 2012," said Doug Porter, the Bank of Montreal's deputy chief economist.
He noted the month-to-month moves in the overall number of jobs can be volatile.
"You can get some pretty dramatic swings that end up not meaning a whole lot, but I pay a lot of attention to the unemployment rate and I think it is the single most reliable figure in the labour force report and it did show some real progress at the end of 2012," Porter said.
The federal agency said the national unemployment rate slipped by one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.1 per cent, its lowest level since December 2008.
The results easily topped economists' estimates for a gain of just 5,000 jobs nationally and an unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent.
-- with files from Canadian Press
Division of labour
Manitoba seasonally adjusted workforce characteristics:
(Thousands of Persons)
Workforce Total employment Full-time employment Private-sector employment
2009 643.9 606.1 484.5 442.1
2010 655.0 620.6 501.0 452.3
2011 662.5 626.5 508.1 463.2
2012 673.4* 638.4* 515.9* 473.4 *
* All-time record level
-- source: Manitoba Bureau of Statistics