By Jensen, Randy on June 20, 2020.
The Lethbridge regional economy might be a bit of a wounded bird coming out of the COVID-19 shutdown, but at least it is still flying, says a new report released by the Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force.
“We have a reasonably diversified economy,” explains Trevor Lewington, co-chair of the task force; “so relative to the rest of the province Lethbridge tends to fare better. We certainly have seen a jump in the unemployment number (due to COVID-19), but it is nowhere near the rest of the province. So that’s good.”
The latest unemployment numbers, according to CAI Global who was consulted for the report, is the Lethbridge area now has an unemployment rate of nine per cent. Not exactly good, says Lewington, but far better than the 15.5 per cent which is the Alberta average at the moment.
Agriculture, food processing and the manufacturing sectors continue to lead the way for the region, and have proven resilient so far in the face of COVID-19.
However, says Lewington, it is important not to understate the severe impact the past three months have had on the regional economy.
“For us this report was about really understanding the impact of the last three months, the impact of the coronavirus and the shut down on the local economy,” he explains. “We were able to quantify it for the 10 sectors we studied. We know there was about $828 million worth of salaries in the Lethbridge trade region through job loss that were taken out of the economy. We also now know companies lost about $480 million worth of sales in that three-month timeframe. By understanding and quantifying that, we can understand how severe the impact is, and it gives us a way to look at what sectors might need more support.”
Job postings in the region are also down, says Lewington, but begin to show some signs of rebound since the economy reopened earlier this month.
“Job postings in general are down year over year, but also year to date,” he confirms. “Between January and April the total number of job postings was down about 34 per cent. So that is obviously a bit of a concern because job postings are generally an indicator of unemployment rates to come. But some sectors have started to see that turn around; accommodation and food service is a good example.”
Lewington expects that positive trend to continue.
“We have started to see a lot of businesses reopen,” he says. “We have started to see rehiring. I think the good news is some of wage subsidy programs the federal government has extended for business is encouraging people to rehire.”
The next challenge will be getting the border reopened to help normalize trade again, says Lewington, and making adjustments for the fact there will be fewer college and university students in the city this fall as classes are largely expected to continue online instead of in person.
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