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A diversified economy sheltered Kelowna from the COVID-19 storm

Construction and manufacturing have offset job losses in tourism to give Kelowna the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada.
December 07, 2020 - 1:00 PM

Kelowna’s unemployment rate fell to 4.7 per cent in November, giving it the second lowest unemployment rate of any “census metropolitan area” in the country.

This comes despite the fact that about 12,000 jobs in the region are tied to the tourism industry that has been devastated by COVID-19.

“It (tourism) is certainly a driver and certainly an important industry,” Krista Mallory, manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, told iNFOnews.ca. “There are certainly other industries – more so now than perhaps in the past in this region – that are growing and mitigating some of those effects. Definitely, a diversified economy has helped here locally.”

Mallory cautioned that any individual monthly unemployment rate published by Statistics Canada should be “taken with a grain of salt” since only a small number of households are surveyed each month.

Still, the trend is downwards since the unemployment peak of May, June and July of around 10 per cent.

“We are seeing some evidence that our unemployment rate rose slightly later than the rest of the province and the country and recovered slightly earlier, but it is a little early to say what the long term impacts are of that,” she said. “Certainly, the numbers are trending in the right direction.”

Only Quebec City shows a lower unemployment rate at 4.3 per cent.

For B.C. as a whole, the unemployment rate is 7.1 per cent while the Thompson-Okanagan region is slightly above that at 7.4 per cent. There are no listings for Kamloops, Penticton or Vernon.

November’s unemployment rate is higher than at any time in 2019.

In 2019, Kelowna’s unemployment rate peaked in August at 4.4 per cent and was at its lowest in January 2019 at 3.2 per cent.

For the region, unemployment in 2019 was at its highest in May 2019 at 5.3 per cent and was at 5.0 per cent to start 2020. It peaked at 10.3 per cent in both July and August.

Canada, as a whole, saw unemployment peak in May of 2020.

“We’re seeing different industries recovering at different paces,” Mallory said. “A couple of industries that are strong in this region that have not seen the job loss that accommodation and food services have would be some manufacturing – construction and development, certainly, has been a big driver of employment this year in our region and we have not seen that fall, as is tech.”

A lot of the manufacturing is not visible to most residents, she noted.

Waterslides, for example, are manufactured in the Central Okanagan. There is a strong cannabis industry. Along with the construction industry, construction materials are manufactured in the region, she said, pointing to Geometrik, which makes acoustic ceiling and wall systems.

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