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6 things to watch for in Friday’s job numbers in Canada and the U.S.: Don Pittis

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The first big economic indicator of the year comes out in both Canada and the United States on Friday, when Statistics Canada and the U.S. Department of Labour release their job numbers. While tomorrow’s numbers are for December, the final quarter of 2018 and summarize the entire year, they may offer hints of what to expect in 2019.

Here are some of the things to watch for.

1. Job market to stay tight?

Despite concerns about the economy, the U.S. continues to face a worker shortage. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Despite talk of doom following a market slide at the end of 2018, there is plenty of evidence the job market will remain tight on both sides of the border. Increasing retirements as the population ages and a low participation rate mean employers remain hungry for workers, though demand differs regionally. For the first time in years, experts say, people have enough confidence to quit their job if they want to try something new.

That’s considered good for the economy. In theory, a re-sorting of the labour force can make each worker more productive as they move into a job that better uses their skills.

A poll of economists predicts tomorrow’s U.S. jobless figures will remain near their recent record low of 3.7 per cent. And in Canada, they’re predicting a tick up, from 5.6 to 5.7 per cent. Numbers that come in above or below those predictions could spook or spark the wider economic outlook.

2. Housing and construction

Construction remains a big employer, but that could change depending on the fate of the housing market. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

After a year of residential price and sales declines, watch tomorrow’s numbers for any signs of a decline in construction jobs. A continued slide in the real estate sector in 2019 could hurt employment directly, including in real estate agencies. And a slowdown could have carryover effects into construction materials and sales of the kinds of goods people buy when they are setting up a new home, affecting jobs in those sectors.

If house prices fall and people begin to feel less comfortable, they might cut household spending, which could have a wider effect on new employment. However, long construction lead times mean it may be a while before job losses in construction hit. And extravagant price increases over the last decade should be enough to provide a safe margin for real estate investors considering new construction projects, especially if they have land and permissions in place. This is especially true in Canada’s largest urban centres, where housing demand remains strong.

3. Pot jobs

Bill MacDonald instructs a new crop of cannabis workers at Ontario’s Niagara College. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

On a positive note here in Canada, watch for any references in Statistics Canada’s report to cannabis-related employment in the second half of 2018. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has predicted that legal pot will contribute a significant additional 0.2 per cent to Canada’s GDP growth rate this year. That fits with widespread reports of a shortage of product.

Meanwhile, both public and private sector retailers are looking to expand. Approvals for retail shops have been slow, and even where they exist, government shops have been operating on reduced hours due to a lack of inventory. While share prices for cannabis companies have been volatile, expect lots more job demand in 2019 across the supply chain, from highly skilled agronomists to informed retail staff.

4. Oil and gas bust

Albertans are plenty concerned about the strength of their oil sector. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Despite deep worries in this country’s oil and gas producing regions over the price of Canadian crude, job creation has been surprisingly resilient. In Alberta, for example, unemployment fell a whole percentage point in November.

Regional and sectoral breakdowns in the Labour Force Survey will offer indications of whether the industry’s most recent battering will change that. Of course, jobless data does not tell the whole story since new jobs may not pay as well as those lost in the energy sector.

On a more optimistic note, while new development in the oilsands may be fading, other projects, including B.C.’s $40-billion Kitimat LNG terminal and a much discussed new refinery, could create jobs for many skilled specialists.

5. U.S. government shutdown

If the partial U.S. government shutdown continues, it could have an effect on private sector jobs as government workers spend less money. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

While U.S. government workers affected by the partial shutdown are expected to keep their jobs, if the battle between an intransigent President Donald Trump and an equally intransigent Congress extends too far into the new year, expect trouble. The talks underway are trying to avoid a collapse in spending power among many government employees that could result in fewer jobs in the sectors that serve them.

Many government reports could be delayed by the partial shutdown, but the job numbers will reportedly be an exception because a failure to release the crucial economic data could further reduce market confidence.

In Canada, many retailers were worried the recent postal strike, which caused similar disruption to one government service, would also have a negative impact on online shopping. But bricks and mortar retailers reported stronger sales, and alternative shipping startups such as eShipper and Chit Chats got a boost.

6. Holiday retail employment

Temporary employment surges over the holidays. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Coming in as they did before the shutdown, early U.S. holiday retail sales were above average, though Statistics Canada won’t have final December figures until February. However, employment during the holidays tends to rise as retailers and shippers bring in seasonal workers to help with holiday sales and post-Christmas bargains.

And while retailers have some latitude to cut staffing if sales prove weak, early predictions of a bumper season for Canadian retail sales will likely mean holiday employers grabbed the workers they could find in a tight labour market.

While holiday jobs are usually of short duration, they give employers a chance to try out new workers they might want to keep. And they provide experience to less-qualified workers when employers lower the bar during a time when trained workers are hard to find.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck

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Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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