A new study suggests Hamilton-Niagara is growing some economic muscle.
The Ontario Economic Update 2016 released this week, says employment in the “Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula Economic Region” expanded at a faster pace in 2015 than in previous years.
In that greater region, the St. Catharines-Niagara census metro area led with a near five per cent rise — while employment growth in the Brantford census area is at a 1.5 per cent pace this year and Hamilton has growth of around one per cent a year.
It also says service-producing industries, including tourism and health have been sources of employment growth regionally, with closures in the manufacturing sector subsiding.
The report was created by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Credit Unions of Ontario, with support from the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
It said St. Catharines-Niagara overall unemployment is forecast to fall below seven per cent this year, the lowest since 2008. That regional CMA does not include Grimsby or West Lincoln.
Statistics Canada most recently had St. Catharines-Niagara’s November unemployment rate at 7.8 per cent, seasonally adjusted— that’s in the bottom half of large census metro areas in the province.
However, this was during a period of seasonal high unemployment for the region. October’s was 7.3 per cent.
Meanwhile, job growth is forecast at 1.7 percent during 2016 in the Hamilton-Niagara region, slightly lower than the 2.2 per cent expected in 2015, but higher than every other year since recession.
“Looking ahead, manufacturing, tourism, and transportation services stand to benefit from more favourable external conditions,” said the update summary released by the Niagara chamber. It said domestic sectors such as construction, real estate, and retail trade will gain from low interest rates and an improvement in economic conditions.
A major manufacturing decline — which has hammered Niagara and southwest Ontario — appears to have reversed.
Most of the major restructuring in the manufacturing sector appears to be over,” said Liam McGuinty, director of policy at the Ontario Chamber. “That’s not unique to (Niagara), it’s something we’re seeing across southwestern Ontario and the GTA.”
According to province-wide data, most areas will enjoy improving economic conditions in the coming year.
Growth will be driven in part by a rise in exports, a stronger U.S. economy and a low Canadian dollar. Government fiscal policy will also be a key driver, with federal and provincial infrastructure commitments to stimulate growth.
Across Ontario, regional growth performances during 2015 will be led by the Toronto and Hamilton-Niagara regions, with the Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie and London regions close behind.
McGuinty said a lot of the optimistic forecast has to do with “Ontario’s rising fortunes, generally.”
In the greater Niagara-Hamilton-GTA, McGuinty said there’s been an “uptick in not just service sector, but also manufacturing and it’s on the back of a weakening Canadian dollar and growing American consumer demand.”
Corrina Carson, interim executive director of the Niagara Workforce Planning Board, said her group supports the accuracy of the study findings.
“It’s encouraging in its forecasts of an improving outlook on the future growth of the Hamilton-Niagara CMA using (key) indicators,” Carson said, adding the study focuses on projected forecasts for our larger economic region.
The board’s own labour market report, released last month, shows St. Catharines-Niagara has seen growth across all industries by employment, with the exception of information, culture and recreation.
“While manufacturing experienced significant loss between 2009-2014, it has held steady between 2009-2014 (and) better than that of Ontario,” Carson said.
Niagara chamber CEO Mishka Balsom explains that one big factor behind the declining unemployment rates noted in the update, is a lower rate of participation in the labour force, especially since the recession.
“Had the labour force participation roughly remained the same as in 2009 and employment growth was unchanged, the region’s unemployment rate would be closer to nine per cent, rather than six,” Balsom said.
As for manufacturing Balsom says despite the overall decline of that sector over the last few decades, “local manufacturing job numbers have been stable for years now.”
“In fact, we’ve actually increased employment in manufacturing over the last five years, even while Ontario as a whole lost manufacturing jobs,” she said
“There’s every indication that manufacturers in Niagara have found a way to make it work and that this sector can be a source of future job growth.”
Ontario Economic Update for the Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula economic region
- it spans census metropolitan areas of Hamilton, St. Catharines-Niagara, and Brantford, and also covers Haldimand-Norfolk.
- region grew more rapidly in 2015 than 2014. Unlike last year, most of this year’s employment growth was outside the Hamilton CMA. The St. Catharines-Niagara CMA led with a near five percent rise, followed by a substantial employment gain outside the three CMAs in the region.
- full-time employment in the region is well above trend growth for the second year in a row.
- Most of the gains are centered in the Hamilton and St. Catharines-Niagara. Part-time employment down and full-time is up, and total hours worked is higher.
- unemployment at six per cent is the lowest in years. Hamilton’s rate will approach an average of 5.6 per cent in 2015 and in St. Catharines-Niagara it will fall below seven per cent, the lowest since 2008.
- the employment share of service industries in the regions is 77 per cent, compared to 63 per cent in 1987 and 70 per cent in 1996. The highest share is in St. Catharines-Niagara, due to its major tourist industry.
Source: Update synopsis from Ontario Chamber of Commerce