By Kalinowski, Tim on February 1, 2020.
Lethbridge business owners are feeling confident in the local economy and optimistic about the future.
This, according to a new “Brighter Together” survey compiled and released by Economic Development Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce. The survey asked 143 businesses how they felt about their current economic prospects in Lethbridge; with 76 per cent answering that their overall business health is positive and 80 per cent saying they intend to maintain or expand their labour force in the next year.
Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington said Lethbridge seems to be bucking provincial business trends on several fronts: businesses here are hiring and expanding, and are expecting to invest in new technologies, innovate new products, enter new markets and offer new services in 2020.
“Personally, I think the optimism comes from the fact we have a very different economy here,” stated Lewington. “With the agriculture as the base, it has been pretty stable relative to the ups and downs of oil and gas. We haven’t seen the collapse of property assessments like in Calgary. We haven’t seen the collapse of the employment situation like in Medicine Hat and Red Deer. So generally people see Lethbridge is a positive outlier, and that has created some momentum.”
In fact, said Lewington, one of the only truly negative things business owners complained of in the survey was the lack of available skilled workers which inhibits their ability to grow at the pace they would like to be growing. Of the businesses surveyed, about 37 per cent listed that as the top disadvantage to doing business in Lethbridge, followed closely by cost of labour, and third, by general workforce availability.
Businesses are looking to hire in Lethbridge, summarized Lewington, but feel they are having challenges getting enough workers or enough qualified workers to satisfy their needs.
“We do have the lowest unemployment in the province,” he acknowledged. “We ended the year around four per cent, which put us in a very tight labour market compared to the rest of Alberta. We recognize that’s an issue, but I think what we need to understand from local businesses more is what exactly is the skill sets they are missing? It’s one thing for people to say, ‘We don’t have a qualified workforce.’ Is it journeyman electricians with controlled automation qualifications? Is it general labour overall? I think that’s the work both our organization and the Chamber of Commerce have to do next – to really dig deep to understand what specific skills are missing. And is that an opportunity to work with the college and university to address that? Is it something we need to address by attracting those skills? Is it an immigration play? This survey is great information, but it is just the beginning really.”
Lewington said, in some ways, it’s not a bad problem to have, and reflects the underlying sense of optimism in the city’s economic position.
“Business owners here are looking to the future, and they are positive about that. My message to the community is: how do we continue to work together, not only to celebrate Lethbridge, support Lethbridge and support local businesses? But how do we continue to address the issues we have constructively and work on things collaboratively?”
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