Business leaders in Manitoba have reserved expectations for growth in the new year as the provincial government rolls out a plan to add thousands more private-sector jobs over the next four years.
Less than a quarter of businesses in Manitoba expect to see employment growth in 2020, according to the Manitoba Business Outlook Survey, released Tuesday by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
"This is the result that has me the most concerned," said president and CEO Chuck Davidson. "The province has set a target of 40,000 new jobs over the next four years. A number like this is not going to achieve that."
The second-consecutive annual survey of 400 chambers of commerce members representing a range of businesses across the province was conducted over two weeks in mid-November on an array of topics, including barriers to growth, provincial competitiveness, climate change, labour and skilled trades and inter-provincial trade regulation.
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce has close to 10,000 members.
Eleven per cent of survey respondents said they expect the number of people they employ will shrink in 2020, while 66 per cent anticipate staying the course when asked about their growth expectations.
A variety of factors are influencing that result, Davidson said, with businesses expressing difficulty in hiring and retaining qualified employees, accessing investment capital and dealing with rising costs.
"There’s momentum happening, but it’s not resulting in business making that decision to say, ‘Yep, I’m willing to make an investment,’ ‘Yep, I’m looking to hire more people.’ You see pockets of it some areas, but how do we get that confidence back in the business community?" he said.
"If we don’t address these things and have a clear plan to move forward, we’re not going to give business the confidence it needs."
In early October, the Tory government launched the Manitoba Works Plan, a campaign promise to foster an economic environment supportive of private-sector job creation and to promote growth of the province’s economy.
“The business community wants to be part of that solution, as well.” - Chuck Davidson
While a majority of survey respondents said Manitoba’s business climate is competitive with other provinces and leaders are optimistic about the direction the province is heading in, there’s more that government can do to help businesses reach that goal.
Reducing or eliminating business and payroll taxes was the No. 1 item for survey respondents when asked what policies the provincial government could change to improve the business climate in Manitoba, followed by reducing regulations, providing incentives for capital investment and increased government-funded skills training.
"Those are some of the things that we’re continually working with government on. It’s not going to change overnight but we need to start moving that dial in the right direction," Davidson said. "The business community wants to be part of that solution, as well."
The province’s decision to combine post-secondary education with economic development at the cabinet level was a step in the right direction, Davidson said, as the business community continues to struggle with hiring and retaining staff, but they still require more labour-market information.
To allay some labour-market concerns in the short term, chartered human resources professional Colleen Coates said companies may have to put more effort into marketing their workplaces to young workers, offer employees a sense of ownership in the company and take the lead on skills training to meet their needs.
"We have so much to offer in Manitoba, and sometimes I think we forget that," Coates said. "Talk to your people that you have in your business now and (about) what you can do with what you have today.
"We can’t just sit around waiting for the government to make change, we have to be the drivers of that."
Updated on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at 12:20 PM CST: Report added.
12:37 PM: Graphics added.