The construction industry is helping spur the Central Fraser Valley’s economy. Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News

Report predicts drop in Abbotsford-Mission unemployment rate

Strong growth forecast by Conference Board of Canada, but trade concerns pose risk

Unemployment in the Central Fraser Valley is expected to drop over the next four years, according to a new report that predicts the Abbotsford-Mission area will boast some of the best economic growth numbers in Canada.

The Conference Board of Canada’s most recent report on 15 mid-sized cities predicts Abbotsford-Mission will boast the group’s third-fastest-growing economy in 2017, and the fourth-fastest between 2018 and 2021. Other cities included in the report include St. John’s Kingston, Windsor and Thunder Bay.

If the board’s predictions hold true, Abbotsford will have seen the best economic growth numbers among mid-sized cities in the decade ending in 2021.

But those forecasts could be jeopardized by Donald Trump. The Conference Board, a non-profit think tank, says that if the United States implements protectionist trade policies, Abbotsford’s export-oriented manufacturing, transportation and warehousing sectors could be hit. Trump has repeatedly indicated that he wants to amend or even tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and recently said on Twitter that Canada was being “very difficult.”

As it is, Abbotsford-Missioin saw the third-best economic growth numbers in 2016, with the real GDP growing by 3.1 per cent. The board’s report suggest Abbotsford-Mission will see growth between 2.1 and 2.4 per cent through to 2020, and 1.8 per cent in 2021.

Unemployment is predicted to dip all the way to 2021, from 6.5 per cent last year, to 4.9 per cent in four years’ time.

“Following a gain of 4.9 per cent in 2015, employment growth was stagnant in 2016 despite that year’s healthy real output growth,” the report says. “Fortunately, we expect the region to add close to 3,600 new jobs to payrolls over the next two years, with total employment growth expected to reach 2.6 per cent this year and 1.3 per cent in 2018.”

The area’s manufacturing sector has been leading the way, growing by nine per cent in 2016 alone and averaging 6.2 per cent growth over the last half-decade. The report says the weak Canadian dollar has helped that by making exports cheaper for foreign purchasers.

The construction industry has been aided by government projects like improvements to the Ruskin Dam. Projects like the widening of Highway 1 in Langley and the building of a new courthouse in Abbotsford will both help, the report says, while the uptick in new home building will also bolster the economy.