Significant energy investments in the Site C dam and LNG Canada projects are continuing to drive development across northern B.C., but the region remains challenged by a "deepening decline" in forestry and an uncertain outlook for agriculture, says a new economic report released today.
The Northern Development Initiative Trust released its third annual State of the North report on Jan. 30 offering a snapshot on the health of the agriculture, forestry, energy, and tourism industries, as well as northern B.C.'s four development regions.
“This year’s report really sheds light on what we’ve been hearing anecdotally for years – that the rural economy is transitioning to a new mode of operation, albeit at a slower pace than Canada’s major urban centres,” CEO Joel McKay said in a news release.
“For us, it highlights the continued need to support our natural resource sectors wherever possible, invest in diversification and knowledge-based job opportunities and support our communities to ensure they’re attractive, vibrant places well-positioned for long-term sustainability.”
The short-term outlook for northern B.C. is "mixed at best," the organization said, with the mining, oil and gas, and tourism sectors all on the rise. However, agriculture futures remain unknown due to trade concerns and weather. And forestry is expected to continue to decline.
The $40-billion LNG Canada project alone is expected to account for about 0.7% of B.C.'s GDP growth this year. Roughly 1,000 workers are on site in Kitimat setting the stage for main construction, while the first sectons of pipe for the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline are expected to be put in the ground this summer.
At Site C, crews are working to complete the tunnels necessary to divert the Peace River outside Fort St. John, which will allow crews to begin building the kilometre long earthfill dam this fall.
The north is expected to see an uptick in new business formations and housing starts, "signalling that major projects, primarily led by the oil and gas sector, are driving development in key parts of Northern B.C.," NDIT said.
Looking ahead to 2040, the north will see shifting demographics and slower population growth compared with the rest of B.C., NDIT said, while the Lower Mainland will continue to see outsize growth.
The unemployment rate in northern B.C. is "relatively low" at 5.8% overall, but still 1.1% higher than the provincial average, it said.
The report was completed with the help of MNP consultants.
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