Northern Economist 2.0

Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts

Friday, 8 September 2017

Economic News Around the North: September 8th Edition

Summer is over, autumn is back and winter is coming.  It is the start of a new academic school year and life takes on a brisker pace here in Thunder Bay both on and off campus.  Traffic is noticeably up everywhere in town and the drivers are in a hurry.  So, without any more delay, here are the recent stories I feel have some economic significance for northern Ontario.

Vale to shut Clarabelle Mill Crushing plant. CBCNews Sudbury. September 7th, 2017.

As noted in another story in the Sudbury Star, Vale is not closing the mill itself, but only the crushing plant.  This is expected to affect 13 jobs but no plans for workforce reduction have been announced yet.  It should be noted that it has apparently been a good month for commodity prices.

Also in Sudbury...

Sudbury city councillor wants a closer look at de-amalgamation. CBCNews Sudbury, September 6th, 2017.

Sudbury city councillor Michael Vagnini wants to put forth a motion to re-examine the amalgamation of 8 areas that took place in 2001 to create Greater Sudbury.  Laurentian University economist David Robinson says amalgamation hasn't worked.  Vagnini notes that municipal employment in the former cities together has grown 30 percent since 2001 which suggests rising costs (and taxes) underpin his concerns.  Of course, breaking everything asunder after it has been put together will involve substantial transition and transaction costs and the key question should be what are the benefits and what are the costs.  If Sudbury explores this option, is Thunder Bay next?  One can make the case that having twin cities at the Lakehead led to economic competition that may have generated some growth and development benefits.  It could be more than a coincidence that amalgamation in 1970 which resulted in monopoly municipal government also coincided with the start of decades of slower economic growth.

Of course, Thunder Bay has enough issues on its plate without embarking on revisiting its own amalgamation.  If anything, it apparently could use some good news and this week has seen a spate of good news stories especially from its local CBC outlet.  There have been stories on the start of school, the excitement of the XXVIII WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup 2017 which is being held in Thunder Bay and the community spirit it has brought to the fore as well as a story on making clowns feel better given that nasty Stephen King character.  However, the most interesting story has been a set of stories on why Thunder Bay is important to Canada and in particular, this one:

What makes Thunder Bay important? Economically, it's our location. CBCNews Thunder Bay, September 5th, 2017.

Its an upbeat boosterish piece not out of place with the pre-World War I brochures that used to extol Port Arthur and Fort William as the future hubs of the Dominion.   In many respects, little changes in Thunder Bay when it comes to its approaches to marketing economic development.  This morning also had an interview featuring young professionals noting all the potential that Thunder Bay has when it comes to opportunity and that the economy seems to be doing well because restaurants are opening. Don't get me wrong.  I think Thunder Bay is a great place to live and work but I think these types of self-obsessed feel good efforts directed at ourselves reflect a fundamental insecurity and an insular preoccupation with ourselves.  We really should be aiming any marketing campaign outside of the city, not at ourselves and I'm a bit surprised by the relentless onslaught of feel good stories by the local outlet of the national broadcaster.  Perhaps there has been a recent local management change or perhaps the PMO has sent the national broadcaster a directive that there must only be "sunny ways" stories in rural remote regions.

In other upbeat news with a more direct quantifiable economic impact:

Rainy River gold mine prepares to process ore. tbnewswatch. September 7th, 2017. 

Brookfield prepared to exit stake in North American Palladium as metal soars. The Globe and Mail. September 8th, 2017.

North American Palladium posts $8M profit in turnaround quarter. The Northern Miner. September 7th, 2017.

Indeed, the upbeat news from mining and the promised Ring of Fire Road has led to at least one First Nation being "anxious" for a gateway role in the Ring of Fire as this Chronicle Journal story notes.

In related mining news, it would appear the good news from the Ring of Fire has also caught the attention of other interests.  Indeed, it is infectious.

Should Ontario Northland be the railroader for the Ring of Fire? BAYTODAY.ca, September 7th, 2017.

City continues ferrochrome plant pitch. saultstar.com. August 29th, 2017. 

And in Timmins, more mining progress.

Sage Gold bulks up for mill sample. Northern Ontario Business. September 1st, 2017.

So, it looks like everything really is sunny in northern Ontario this week though even when it comes to the mining sector there are some critiques.  I guess we all need to make a conscious effort to spend more time out in the sunshine especially before the winter sets in.

And one last bit of good news, just out from Statistics Canada.  Canada's unemployment rate declined slightly to 6.2 percent.  Thunder Bay's rate for August is 6.5 percent (down from 6.7) and Sudbury's is 5.2 percent (down from 5.4)

 Have a great weekend.











Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Another Look at Northern Ontario Economic Activity...And the Pictures are Not Pretty

When looking at trends in the northern Ontario economy, we often look at evidence on population growth, unemployment rates, personal incomes or employment creation.  Well, here is another indicator courtesy of Statistics Canada Table 11-001 - Summary of charitable donors, annual.  Now this data is on charitable contributions and provides information on the value of donations (more on that in a later post) but it also provides data on the number of taxfilers by jurisdiction.

Why is the number of taxfilers an interesting number?  If your economy is growing and there is substantial economic activity, more people are either working or setting up businesses and income is being generated and by extension the number of income tax taxfilers should be going up. So what do the numbers look like?

Figure 1 presents the number of income tax taxfilers for Thunder Bay and Sudbury from 1997 to 2015 and for Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins for the period 2008 to 2015 (which is what is available),  Needless to say, things look a little flat in these northern Ontario cities especially compared to Ontario as a whole in Figure 2 which has seen steady growth in the number of taxfilers despite having a fairly moribund economy until just a couple of years ago.




Figure 3 provides the percent change for these northern Ontario cities and Ontario as a whole for the period of commonly available numbers spanning the years 2008 to 2015.  The number of taxfilers has shrunk in four out of the five cities - only Thunder Bay has managed a slight increase.  North Bay shrank by -0.3 percent and Sudbury by -0.5 percent which is rather modest compared to Timmins and the Sault.  The number of taxfilers in Timmins shrank by 3.1 percent and the Sault by 2.6 percent.   Thunder Bay, on the other hand registered a very miniscule increase of one tenth of one percent. Ontario as a whole saw an increase of 9.2 percent in the number of taxfilers between 2008 and 2015.



So - more evidence of the blatantly obvious I suppose.  Growth in northern Ontario's economy has essentially come to a halt.   Given the coming provincial election, it will be entertaining to say the least to watch how the three party leaders handle the issue.



Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Economic News Around the North: August 15th Edition

We are in mid-August and the summer is drawing to a close.  The economic news has been pretty slow in northern Ontario.  Here are the stories of economic significance to northern Ontario over the last week or so.  They are mainly focused on the Conference Board Reports which were issued in late July and early August and that show the northern Ontario economy is not growing as fast as either Ontario or Canada.

Thunder Bay economy advances "sluggishly".  Tbnewswatch, August 9th, 2017.

Incidentally, Netnewsledger in Thunder Bay ran this story August 3rd (and was reported in my last northern Ontario economic news post.) I suppose narrative is everything.  According to the Conference Board Report in the above story, real GDP in Thunder Bay will rise 0.2 per cent in 2017 and 0.9 percent in 2018 following a 0.2 per cent increase in 2016.  Compare this to the Canadian economy which is expected to grow 2.3 per cent in 2017 and just under 2 percent in 2018.  Ontario is forecast to surge at 2.3 percent in 2017 but then scales back to 1.8 per cent in 2018.  Real GDP growth in Thunder Bay is forecast at below 1 per cent until 2021,  Yet, apparently life in Thunder Bay goes on with personal income per capita expected to grow at greater than 3 per cent from 2018 to 2021.  While the overall economy is not growing, having 30 percent of your employment in the broader public sector is lending a certain punch to average personal incomes.

Meanwhile in Sudbury, the Conference Board projects real GDP will grow at 1.2 percent in 2017 and 1.0 percent in 2018 but real GDP growth over the period 2018 to 2021 is also not expected to top 1 percent.  Yet, the narrative in Sudbury is a little different.

Sudbury to grow in 2017: Conference Board. Thesudburystar.com. August 4th, 2017.

In other Sudbury economic news:

Vale looking at layoffs in Sudbury. Thesudburystar.com. August 12th, 2017.

In terms of the size of Vale's economic footprint in Sudbury: "Vale operates five mines in Sudbury, as well as a mill, a smelter, a refinery and employs nearly 4,000 workers. It mines nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group metals, gold and silver."

Timmins and the Sault also made their way into the Conference Board's Mid-Sized Cities Outlook and the report forecast real GDP in the Sault to grow 0.6 percent in 2017 and for Timmins to grow 1.4 percent in 2017.  Of the four cities covered in these Conference Board Reports it would appear that Timmins is doing the best with the manufacturing sector as well as the primary and utilities sectors driving growth.  Thunder Bay is forecast to grow the least. 

Timmins ready for economic growth says Conference Board of Canada. timminspress.com, July 27, 2017.

Sault growth behind that of Ontario, Canada. saultstar.com. July 28th, 2017.

So what about North Bay?  Well, no Conference Board Report for them.  They are neither a "big" northern CMA like Thunder Bay or Sudbury or a "Mid Size" city like Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins.  I'm sure that North Bay at least self-identifies as a Mid-Sized city and I wish to state that I consider North Bay one of the northern urban league of  five - the N5 as I sometimes like to refer to them.  

Still, here is an item of interest regarding the employment impact in northern Ontario - particularly North Bay -of an Electricity Trading Agreement entered into last fall with Quebec by the Ontario government.

Fedeli request leads to FAO probe on Ontario-Quebec Power deal. BayToday.ca. August 11th, 2017.

And another page in the inexorable march of retail change in the north:

Self-checkout threat to local jobs very real, labour warns. Nugget.ca, August 5th, 2017.


Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

North's CMAs Sluggish When it Comes to Building Permits

The June 2017 building permit numbers from Statistics Canada are out today and they show that the total value of building permits rose in six provinces in June, led by Quebec and Manitoba. Meanwhile, permits were up in 14 of 36 census metropolitan areas (CMAs), led by Toronto, Montréal and Winnipeg with Hamilton reporting the largest decline in June (-60.0%).

The year to year results (June 2016 to June 2017) are shown in the accompanying figure for Canada's CMAs.  All CMAs grew 24.3 percent. They range from a high of 172 percent for Halifax to a low of -81 percent for Moncton.  As for Thunder Bay and Sudbury, they both show a negative performance with -2.7 percent for Thunder Bay and -4 percent for Greater Sudbury.




This building permit report comes in the wake of Conference Board Reports showing that these two cities have sluggish economies. However, with respect to building permits in Ontario they are not doing as badly as Hamilton, Windsor, Peterborough or St. Catharines.  Another intriguing result is the Ottawa area where Ottawa/Gatineau shows annual growth of 13.7 percent but the Gatineau part is at -12.7 percent and the Ottawa part grew at 18.9 percent.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Economic News Around the North: August 3rd, 2017 Edition

Well, we are about to start a long weekend so why not stock up on some reading material related to the northern Ontario economy.  To start off, a couple of big picture items with important implications both economically and politically.

Why Canada would be directly in the way of a North Korean nuclear war. National Post. August 3rd, 2017.

It turns out the world is round after all and the shortest route to the United States from North Korea is a curve and the curve takes North Korean missiles right over Canada on their way to destinations like New York or Denver.  Looking at the map on this story carefully and one can see that the way to Chicago comes pretty close to Thunder Bay.  One wonders if the North Koreans are aware that Thunder Bay (actually the twin Lakehead cities of Fort William and Port Arthur) once styled itself as the up and coming  "Chicago of the North".  Hopefully, the North Koreans have updated their intelligence and will not get Thunder Bay confused with Chicago - not that it will really matter much if we head off into global thermonuclear war.  Where is President Trump's "Wall" when we really need it? I guess, we should all just move to Australia and hang out "On the Beach" with Nevil Shute.

Here in the north, we might want to use our enhanced political clout to get the Ontario government to take on North Korea. However, another story in the National Post is not too taken with the potential for two more northern Ontario riding.

Josh Dehaas: Ontario Liberals plans for two new ridings could violate the Charter and cost PCs the election, National Post, August 3rd, 2017.

In other news:

Thunder Bay Economy Sluggish-Conference Board of Canada. NetNewsLedger, August 3rd, 2017.

Personally, I think sluggish as a description of Thunder Bay's recent economic performance is a bit of an understatement.  However, there does appear to be a fair amount of recent hotel, condo and apartment construction so obviously all things considered a lot of people want to live in Thunder Bay either permanently or temporarily despite the economy and the bad national publicity.  The Economics Department at Lakehead just hired a new colleague so there is another addition to the local population (4 if you include family).  Welcome back to Lakehead Karl & family!

New $15 million plant opens in Timmins. Sudbury Star, July 20, 2017.

It is heavy industry tied to the mining sector.   A  Timmins-based speciality plant called The Bucket Shop for the creation and manufacture of custom heavy equipment buckets for front-end loaders, scoop trams, excavators and even dozer blades for mining and construction industries.  If you are in Timmins, put a visit to it on your bucket list.

Which way Sault Ste Marie? Northern Ontario Business. August 2nd, 2017.

Tom Dodds resigns from EDC.  Sault Star, August 1st, 2017.

Well, things are economically uncertain in the Sault so it is time for a new strategic approach to economic development. According to the story: " Under the new organizational flowchart, the EDC will handle business retention, attraction and expansion; export opportunities, infrastructure development, and tourism. The Innovation Centre will oversee technology and innovation development, provide support for tech companies and start-ups, run the Community Geomatics Centre, and handle special projects like the lottery and gaming initiatives, energy projects, and agricultural opportunities. The municipality, itself, has set up a Community Development Fund and will steer the development of a strategic plan, handle community promotion, arts and culture development and work on the labour front to attract newcomers and bring home ex-pats."

As an economist, restructuring your economic development approach is more of a political gesture designed to convey concern for the economy as economic fundamentals for the Sault like much of the north remain the same.  Still, I am not running for office and if I were I guess I would accept the need to look proactive.

If you are marketing your local economy, this is not good:

Sudbury lands 8th on list of bed-bug ridden cities. CBC Sudbury, August 1st, 2017.

Sault Ste. Marie came in 23rd out of 25.  For once, Thunder Bay did not make this type of list.

Sudbury is getting a new events center (not in the downtown) and an economist even suggests how it will be paid for - by taxpayers.

Robinson: how we'll pay for the events centre.  Sudbury Star. July 24th, 2017.

And as for the goings on in North Bay:

The hard numbers behind North Bay's population decline. BayToday.ca, August 2nd, 2017.

Well, that is all for this edition of  Economic News Around the North.  By the way, here is a great Pan Northern Link for news in general. Have a great long weekend!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Port Activity in Thunder Bay: A Retrospective

Thunder Bay's economic development hinged on its role as a transportation hub and its port was integral to that.  From the early days of the grain trade to the development of the massive elevators that still mark its waterfront, Thunder Bay was vital to the development of the Canadian wheat economy.  At its peak, over thirty grain elevators lined the waterfront in Thunder Bay and it was the largest grain port in the world.  Thunder Bay's port underwent a decline in the 1980s as a result of shifts in global grain markets that persisted  into the early 21st century but recent years have seen a resurgence of both the grain trade and the port.  Indeed, there is new life in the entire St. Lawrence Seaway as a recent piece in the Globe and Mail noted that 2017 has seen a 20 percent increase in freight movement driven by iron ore and grain shipping.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Economic News Around the North: July 17th Edition

Well, a number of interesting items have come to my attention with respect to stories with an economic impact on northern Ontario.  However, it is summer and peak travel season so I think I will keep things short and a bit more eclectic than usual, but with a tourism focus.

To start off, it would appear that tourism efforts in White River, Ontario may be all for naught given the reaction of the Chinese government to Winnie the Pooh.  According to a BBC story, Winnie the Pooh is being blocked in China because images of Pooh are being used to represent China's President Xi Jinping in social commentary and criticism. 




Winnie-the-Pooh may be the world's most beloved bear but apparently the love stops in Beijing where government censors cannot "bear" the images.  White River has of course gone to great lengths to market its link to the character and everyone who has driven the highway has invariably stopped at the roadside statue of the Pooh.

 

No doubt, White River and its citizens will now join the list of subversive elements being monitored by the Chinese government and the Pooh Hometown Festival held the third week of August will acquire new cachet and international significance.  Mark August 18th down in your travel calendar.

In other northern news stories with some relation to tourism and the economics of tourism and travel:

Thunder Bay's Hotel Boom shows no sign of slowing. Northern Ontario Business. July 12th, 2017.

Sudbury Casino would drain economy: report. Nugget.ca. June 27th, 2017.

Thunder Bay Tops Best Places to Live in Northern Ontario. Tbnewswatch. July 6th, 2017.

Well, given Thunder Bay's recent spate of bad news, the above ranking by MoneySense qualifies as good news though the story does qualify the ranking by noting that nevertheless, Thunder Bay barely makes the top 100 ranking only 97th overall (out of 400).

Summer is also the season of festivals and events and the economic impact of these festivals is important.

Few weeks before festival financial picture is clear: Mayor. Timmins Press.ca. July 5th, 2017.

Temiskaming Shores first-ever craft beer festival already sold out. CBC News Sudbury. July 11th, 2017.

Sturgeon Falls festival serves up Rock 'n Ribs. Nugget.ca. July 16th, 2017.

And if you are in Thunder Bay and at Hillcrest Park on Thursday evenings, there is always the MacGillivray Pipe Band which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.



And speaking of MacGillivray, what would William MacGillivray (b. 1764, d. 1825; Chief Director of the Northwest Company) who managed a commercial fur trade empire that extended A Mare usque ad Mare and after whom Fort William, the inland headquarters of the Northwest Company was named, think of this?

Have a great week!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Thunder Bay's Crisis: Time to Move Forward

Thunder Bay often feels neglected by decision makers in Toronto as well as the national media.  Indeed, it has sometimes been expressed that for Thunder Bay, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all as it draws attention to its needs. I disagree and am more disposed to the adage that no news is good news.  Thunder Bay has been making the national media all too often over the last few months and the attention is not favorable.  One really has to wonder why community leaders in Thunder Bay have not been expressing more concern about the issues spanning indigenous relations, institutional problems and social issues given the waves of negative attention.

One only has to take a look at the Toronto Star to see the spotlight that has been focused on Thunder Bay.  Indeed, many issues appear to be getting more attention in Toronto and the national press than in Thunder Bay itself.  The ultimate economic spillover on our community in terms of its potential as a good place to invest and do business is in serious danger.   This is not good for the community and if you think I am exaggerating the potential negative long-term impact that this could have on the city's image and ultimately its economy, take a look at the list of stories that have appeared in the Toronto Star since early May.  If you were an investor planning to open a business in Thunder Bay, a tourist thinking of visiting or a student planning to attend the university or college, how would you react to the following list of stories that mention Thunder Bay - just from the Toronto Star?

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Economic Forecasts and the Impact on Northern Ontario's Economy: Overview and Assessment


Northern Ontario’s economy, with its traditional reliance on transportation and resource sector activities in the end relies on the international economy as a source of demand for its products.  With that in mind, it is helpful to see what the latest forecasts are for the world economy and the potential impact on northern Ontario.  FocusEconomics – headquartered in Barcelona – is a major international economic research and forecasting company that provides data and analysis on international economic indicators and produces economic forecasts and reports. It covers 127 countries, 12 global regions and 33 commodities.  It recently released its July 2017 Consensus Forecast for major economies.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Economic News Around the North: June 25th Edition

video
Well, I have returned from a rather lengthy set of travels.  My trip home was via the scenic Highway 17 drive through Sudbury, the Sault and around the north shore of Superior to Thunder Bay. There is nothing quite like this drive in terms of the vastness of the land and the vistas of rocks, trees and highway.  I had not done this drive in a number of years and perhaps because of the extra rain this year the landscape seemed a lot greener than I remembered it. The video link here shows a bridge crossing along the way (I was in the passenger seat doing the filming for those of you who might be concerned about my safety).  Nevertheless, here are some of the economic news items that have caught my interest.

Well, there were a number of not so flattering stories dealing with Thunder Bay in the national media over the last few weeks but the economic news was somewhat more upbeat.

$23M from Ontario government for school upgrades. CBC Thunder Bay. June 19th, 2017.

Thunder Bay Sears Location to Remain Open. Tbnewswatch. June 22nd, 2017.

Thunder Centre shopping area to be sold to new owner. CBC Thunder Bay June 19th, 2017. 

The Thunder Centre has got a new owner and despite Sears Canada's financial woes, the Thunder Bay store at Intercity Mall is to remain open - at least for now.  Sudbury and The Sault were not as lucky.  North Bay's store is also not closing.

As for the new school construction, it comes at the cost of some closures - rule of thumb in Thunder Bay based on this story is close three old schools to get one new one.  While closing schools is one way of generating some new construction activity, in the end, there are only so many schools that can be closed.  Eventually, to get new schools we will have to do it the old fashioned way - boost enrollment.  Other northern Ontario cities also seem marked by the dynamic of out with the old and in with the new.  In the Sault, the original St. Mary's College was demolished to make way for a new elementary school. One wonders when this dynamic will hit the school boards in Toronto. Curious to see when they will knock down stately old Jarvis Collegiate or UTS in order to build a shiny new building.

Also, in Thunder Bay tourism news, the decommissioned icebreaker Alexander Henry has left Kingston Ontario and is set to return to Thunder Bay to serve as a transportation museum on the waterfront. 

In Sudbury, there seem to be a lot of projects coming to a head with respect to community infrastructure.  A key debate is where to build the new sports arena - downtown or outwards.

Sudbury at a crossroads: build downtown or build outwards? TVO. June 23, 2017.

True north wants to convert downtown arena into arts centre. CBC Sudury. June 22, 2017.

Rainbow Centre makes pitch for Sudbury library, art gallery. CBC Sudbury. June 23rd, 2017.

New Casino in Sudbury depends on where city builds new arena. CBC Sudbury. June 14th, 2014.

In other potential infrastructure news from a natural resource perspective:

Noront looks for smelter landing spots in Sudbury, Timmins. Northern Ontario Business. June 20th, 2017.

New gold mine in Timmins by 2018: Gowest CEO. mining.com. June 4th, 2017.

In other news, North Bay's housing market is still doing well according to this source

Meanwhile, for those of you that missed this, the June 1st provincial byelection in Sault Ste. Marie for the seat vacated by Liberal David Orazietti was won by a Conservative for the first time since 1981.  A sign of things to come? Hard to say.  The election is still officially a year away (though one might see a snap election called in the fall if the governing party feels confident) and alot can happen in a year. Stay tuned.



Friday, 26 May 2017

Economic News Around the North: May 26th Edition

It has been a slow start to spring across northern Ontario but temperatures are finally starting to warm up.  Environment Canada says warmer weather is on its way.  Here are a few of the stories of economic significance for northern Ontario that caught my attention over the last week or so.

Regarding the Ring of Fire, here is an op-ed by Heather Hall and Ken Coates that essentially makes the point that ultimately, the Ring of Fire will not proceed "without substantial, clear and significant indigenous engagement." In the end as any good economic historian knows, institutional arrangements are important.

How to finally ignite Ontario's Ring of Fire. Chronicle-Journal, May 23rd, 2017.

Given this op-ed, selling yourself as a Ring of fire smelter location may be premature. I am also surprised that in this age of heightened sensibilities and sensitivities one is actually using the term 'smelter' and not something like "Value Added Mineral Processing and Community Economic Enhancement Facility".

Northern Ontario cities try to 'sell' themselves as best place to put Ring of Fire smelter. CBC News Sudbury. May 15th, 2017.

Nevertheless, there is no stopping the sense of optimism when it comes to the Ring of Fire especially in the run up to a provincial election.

Premier repeats Ring of Fire Optimism in Timmins. Sudbury Star, May 26th, 2017.

Sadly, given the presence of the Premier in northern Ontario, there was no reaction in northern Ontario to this item (by yours truly) which Dominic Giroux on Twitter noted as a "blunt assessment".  I think this provides support for a case for a government program to provide northern Ontario media organizations with research support as they are probably stretched for resources in pursuing stories.  This is not that far-fetched given the unfortunate downsizing that has occurred over the years in local media that I am aware of.

When it comes to economic development, human capital is also important and of course education is a key component of any human capital strategy.  Providing government services in northern Ontario is already a challenge given the low population density and geographic dispersion.  Doing so in rural northern Ontario even more so.

'Very frustrating, kind of heartbreaking': Seeking support for northern Ontario rural school,"CBC News, Sudbury, May 25th, 2017.

In terms of regional/local infrastructure, this item was of interest.

"North Shore gas project still in the works," Northern Ontario Business, May 19th, 2017.

And of course, there are under the surface the constant rumblings of the Northern Ontario Party...that are probably destined to remain rumblings.

Northern Ontario Party calls for separation.  May 12th, 2017.

Related to the motif of northern resentment and unhappiness, there was this interesting segment on TVO's agenda hosted by Steve Paikin.  In the interview with former Ontario cabinet minister David Orazietti, the interesting point was made that despite the constant claims of alienation and under representation of northern Ontario interests at Queen's Park, on a per capita basis the north has more provincial cabinet ministers than Toronto.  Of course, the related news item is the by-election in the Sault for David Orazietti's vacated seat.

And there is one final item and this again related to institutions and what can often be their indirect impact on business and the economy.  In Thunder Bay we have the situation where the police chief has been placed on administrative suspension as a result of being charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice "stemming from allegations that he disclosed confidential information concerning Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs."  I must admit this one is quite puzzling to me and comes on the heels of other rather odd stories involving the Mayor.  Without really knowing what is going on here, one must nevertheless express disappointment at a situation involving relationships between the senior figures of Thunder Bay's municipal government that does not reflect very well in the national media on a community constantly trying to sell itself as a good place to do business.  Coming at a time when Thunder Bay is also under scrutiny for its relations with indigenous people, one hopes that this matter is speedily resolved and Thunder Bay's leadership quickly moves on to dealing with better things.

Everyone, please try to have a nice weekend. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Northern Ontario Growth Plan: A Summary Evaluation


The Ontario government released the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario on March 4, 2011 in response to years of slow growth and economic stagnation in northern Ontario. In an effort to improve the economy of northern Ontario, the 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
After five years, it was worth examining key economic indicators to see what if any improvements have occurred with respect to the economy of northern Ontario.  After a series of posts examining employment, new investment spending, consumer and business bankruptcies and employment composition, what conclusions can be drawn?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Economic News Around the North: May 14th Edition

Well it has been a few weeks since I did an economic news round-up.  To start off, Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in northern Ontario and beyond! Here is a very brief sampling of some of the northern Ontario related bigger picture economic stories that caught my attention over the last little while.

There have been a few interesting items over the last few weeks.  To start off, both Lakehead and Laurentian universities will be looking for new Presidents as Dominc Giroux and Brian Stevenson nearly simultaneously announced that they will be moving on.  Both institutions are key components of the regional knowledge economy as well as significant economic engines in their own right and the choices made with respect to the next presidents will be critical to the region.

Lakehead University President Brian Stevenson to step down. CBC News. Thunder Bay, April 28th, 2017.

Dominic Giroux to leave Laurentian University for CEO's job at Health Sciences North. CBC News, Sudbury, April 26, 2017.

The actual role of a university president has become more difficult over the years given the increasing complexity of universities and the social and economic environments in which they operate.  However, the key roles remain threefold: vision, fundraising and community relations.  The day to day management of the university is generally delegated to sub-ordinates - or  should be especially  at larger places.  In the end, a successful university president must be judged on their leadership role in terms of providing a general vision of the university's role and articulately communicating it, raising funds - a difficult task in the limited economic environment of northern Ontario - and diplomatic service among  the many communities that the university serves ranging from alumni to business to government.  Good luck to the respective search committees!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Evaluating Northern Ontario's Growth Plan-Part V: Economic Diversification


This is the fifth in a series of posts in which I am presenting evidence evaluating the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, which was released on March 4, 2011.  The 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
While the provincial government did commit itself to the development of performance measures for ministry specific initiatives that supported the implementation of the plan, I will be using a broader set of indicators of overall economic performance that are supported by the availability of readily accessible public data. 

My first post was an overview while my second post looked at employment.  My third post looked at new investment spending as measured by building permits and my fourth post looked at consumer and business bankruptcies as an indicator of economic health. In this fifth post, I will be looking at changes in the composition of employment between 2011 and 2016 as an indicator of diversification.

Measuring diversification can be a complicated issue.  Is a diversified economy one more reliant on services rather than primary industries - in which case we are already there as the bulk of employment in northern Ontario is service oriented.  Is a diversified economy one in which we are less reliant on resource extraction or on any one sector?  Given the growing reliance on public sector employment in northern Ontario one might argue we have become less diversified in recent years.  In short, any measure of economic diversity is bound to be imperfect.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Economic News Around the North: April 25th Edition

It has been a very busy few days when it comes to economic news affecting northern Ontario.  Here is a quick summary of stories:

Well, the softwood lumber dispute is back.  Just as the industry in northern Ontario was beginning to recover from the forest sector crisis, there is going to be a tariff on softwood lumber.  The rates apparently range from 3% to 24%.  Resolute is facing a 12.82 percent tariff with other producers in northern Ontario apparently getting the blanket tariff of 19.88 percent.

Canada vows to fight 'unfair and punitive duty' as Trump slaps tariff on softwood lumber. Financial Post. April 25th, 2017.

Ontario is launching its basic income pilot project and the northern Ontario city selected to participate is Thunder Bay (along with Lindsay and Hamilton) where about 1,000 households will be selected to participate.  According to the news item reported here: "A single person could receive up to about $17,000 a year, minus half of any income he or she earns. A couple could receive up to $24,000 per year. People with disabilities could receive up to $6,000 more per year."

Ontario basic income pilot to launch in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay. CBC News, April 24, 2017.

I would imagine that none of the Thunder Bay recipients basic income will be residents of the new housing development approved by Thunder Bay City council this week. A 49 lot subdivision was approved that really is a testament to urban sprawl and an example of poor long-term financial planning given the costs of servicing the infrastructure. Ultimately a three kilometer sewer line will have to be extended from Parkdale to the new subdivision.  That is a long sewer line to put through very low urban density areas.

Maplewood Estates expansion approved by Thunder Bay city council. CBC News, Thunder Bay, April 25th, 2017.

In other news around the north.

New flight training centre could create up to 150 jobs in Sudbury. Northern Ontario Business. April 18th, 2017.

Northern Ontario railway still struggling. SudburyStar.com. April 25th, 2017.

The release of the latest in a series of Northern Policy Institute reports on boosting immigration.

Project aims to attract immigrants to the North. Sault Star, April 20th, 2017.

Decline in available workers a growing concern. Timminpress.com. April 18th, 2017. 

Also in the Sault:

Ontario Supporting Craft Brewery Expansion in Sault Ste. Marie. Ontario.ca, April 21st, 2017.

City pleads the need for Essar's tax money. Sault Star. April 19th, 2017.

Some controversy still in North Bay regarding a new casino project.

Casino risky for economy. Nugget.ca., April 20th, 2017.

Is help on the way for northern Ontario from the federal government?  Apparently: "The federal government is working to attract jobs and qualified people to Northern Ontario in an attempt to turn around the loss of population – particularly young people – according to the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development."

"All-hands on deck" needed to reverse trend-minister. Nugget.ca. April 20th, 2017.  It was not exactly specified if the ship was heading into stormy waters or was sinking and needed to be abandoned.

And remember, Thursday is budget day in Ontario.  For my take on what to expect? See this.

Have a great week. 













Friday, 21 April 2017

Evaluating Northern Ontario’s Growth Plan-Part IV (Business and Consumer Insolvency)


This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I am presenting evidence evaluating the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, which was released on March 4, 2011.  The 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
While the provincial government did commit itself to the development of performance measures for ministry specific initiatives that supported the implementation of the plan, I will be using a broader set of indicators of overall economic performance that are supported by the availability of readily accessible public data.  My first post was an overview while my second post looked at employment and my third post looked at new investment spending as measured by building permits. In this post, I will be looking at consumer and business bankruptcies or insolvencies as an indicator of economic health.  All other things, during times of economic distress, one would expect to see more consumer and business bankruptcies while during better economic times, the numbers should be expected to decline.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Economic News Around the North: April 14th Edition

Well, we are heading into the Easter weekend.  Spring is a time of rebirth and who knows, after two decades of slow growth, perhaps the north's economy will finally resurrect itself in the third. On the other hand, Good Friday this year coincides with the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Here are some of the stories that I felt were of economic significance for northern Ontario over the last week or so. 

Gas prices soar in city. TbNewswatch, April 13th, 2017.

Well the price of gas has shot up again, just in time for a long weekend but it is a phenomenon that hit the entire province.  If you want some insight on Canadian gasoline prices in general, there is an old post I did on gas prices on Worthwhile Canadian Initiative that also attracted quite a few comments that provided some interesting points.  The long and short, in my opinion, prices are higher because the companies can get away with charging more.  Price differentials across regions have converged over time and this may signify greater market power on the part of gas companies.

Alexander Henry one step closer to returning home. CBCThunderBay. April 11th, 2017.

There seems to be some support for relocating the former icebreaker Alexander Henry from Kingston to Thunder Bay's waterfront.  In principle, this will be an excellent addition to the waterfront as it can serve as the core exhibit for a transportation museum.  This might mesh in nicely with the plans for a grain museum which is being worked on by Nancy Perozzo's group.  As well, there are plans to relocate the Thunder Bay Art Gallery to the waterfront also.  When one looks at the restaurant development in the Waterfront area combined with the location of Magnus Theatre and the long-term plans to place an Events Centre in the area, one can finally see a substantial entertainment district coming into shape.  The one caveat - customers and money.  I know, presenting caveats and pros and cons does not go over well with local movers and shakers who prefer expressions of cheerful mindless optimism when it comes to economic development in the north but Thunder Bay's tax base is under stress and the city's population base and market size are limited.  Can Thunder Bay become a tourism destination with its central Canadian waterfront marked as "The Mid-Coast?"  Who really knows?

Thunder Bay taxi bylaw causes concern for council, taxi companies.  CBCThunderBay. April 11th, 2017.

Getting a taxi in Thunder Bay is a ordeal.  If you ever needed a taxi in the middle of a weekday afternoon on short notice, forget it as they are all engaged in "school runs". This is another example of how dependent even the private sector in northern Ontario is on public sector spending.  I won't even get into trying to get a taxi at the airport or late on a weekend after an evening out or the price.  Supply constraints have been very profitable for Thunder Bay taxi companies and by taking five years to re-write the taxi bylaws, Thunder Bay City Council has been aiding and abetting a cozy oligopoly.

Other Thunder Bay economic news:

First salty arrives in port. TbNewswatch. April 8th, 2017.

Grain shipments make for busy March at Thunder Bay port. CBCThunderBay. April 5, 2017.

Well, this has all been rather Thunder Bay centric to this point.  In other news:

Sudbury loses 400 jobs in March. SudburyStar.com. April 7th, 2017.

Yet, things are going to get better as the Canada Revenue Agency has announced it is adding 543 full-time jobs to the Sudbury tax centre.

Council sets criteria for location of new events centre. CBCNewsSudbury. April 12th, 2017.

Sudbury appears to be moving forward at a rapid clip with a site selection team in place.  However, four of the five members of the selection team appear to be directly related to Sudbury's municipal government with a consultant from PWC as the fifth.  It would have been useful from an optics point of view to have a more arm's length group of experts.  Apparently the criteria for site selection includes cost, economic impact and parking.  In the end, it is all about weighting the criteria and if parking carries the biggest weight, then one should expect the greenfield site outside of the downtown as the final destination.

Here are some interesting items from North Bay.

Casinos siphoned millions from Sudbury, Brantford and Thunder Bay in 2014-15. Nuggest.ca. April 12th, 2017.

And in another tourism infrastructure related story. ..

North Bay city council votes to keep Dionne house. CBCNewsSudbury. April 5th, 2017.

The only surprise here is that the City of North Bay was actually considering giving the historically significant house to a group that was going to move it to a "pioneer village" project 70 miles south of North Bay.  Why stop there, maybe they should consider moving it to Thunder Bay's waterfront - a nice plot of land between the yet to be completed hotel and the new condos?  

And in the relentless and ongoing efforts to attract new business activity via marketing techniques....

Invest Sault Ste. Marie website launched. SaultOnline. April 6th, 2017.

Sault needs to find gaming 'sweet spot'. SaultStar.com. April 9th, 2017.

And in Timmins, this story about the mining sector.

Gold is the new economic driver for Ontario mining. TimminsPress.com. April 12th, 2017.

There were a number of interesting comments made. I was particularly intrigued by the Red Tape Challenge - an Ontario government consultation program for mining asking for input on what could be done to make the mining industry work better with government.   Dealing with red tape by engaging in yet more consultation seems like a typically Ontario way to address questions of efficiency and regulatory barriers.  However, with respect to gold as a driver, according to the president of the Ontario Mining Association:
What has changed in Ontario in the last 10 years is that gold is now a larger contributor than nickel and copper. That’s new and it is a combination of the price of the commodities and the number of new discoveries of gold and the new investments around gold,” said Hodgson.

Have a nice long weekend.




Tuesday, 11 April 2017

How Many Jobs Have Been Created in Thunder Bay?

One of Thunder Bay's Members of Parliament and currently Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour - Patty Hajdu - asserted in a letter to the Chronicle-Journal this morning that "In the last eight months alone, the Canadian economy has created more than a quarter-million full-time jobs. In fact, 1,600 jobs new jobs have been created here in Thunder Bay since we were elected."  Needless to say, this piqued my curiosity and so I went off to Statistics Canada to see what Thunder Bay's total employment numbers have looked like since October of 2015 - the year the Trudeau Liberals  took office.

The results are provided in Figure 1, and are monthly seasonally un-adjusted total employment (three month moving average) for the Thunder Bay CMA.  The numbers show rising monthly employment from October 2015 to August 2016 and a decline since.  In October of 2015, total employment in Thunder Bay was 59,100 jobs and the total employed reached a peak of 61,300 by August of 2016.  This represents an increase of 2,200 jobs.  However, between August of 2016 and March of 2017, employment then declines from 61,300 to 59,300 - a drop of 2,000 jobs.  So, based on these numbers, from October of 2015 to March of 2017 Thunder Bay goes from 59,100 to 59,300 jobs for an increase of 200 jobs.



Of course, while these numbers are three month moving averages, they are not adjusted for seasonality. If we go from October 2015 to October 2016, employment grows from 59,100 to 60,800 for an increase of 1,700 jobs.  If we go from March 2016 to March 2017, we see total employment grow from 59,500 to 59,300 jobs - a decline of 200 jobs.  Based on Figure 1, Thunder Bay may have indeed seen the creation of 1,600 new jobs since the election of the Trudeau Liberal government but it also appears to have lost nearly as many jobs making for little in the addition of net new employment.
 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Evaluating Northern Ontario's Growth Plan-Part III: Investment Spending


This is the third in a series of posts in which I am presenting evidence evaluating the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, which was released on March 4, 2011.  The 25-year plan was to guide provincial decision-making and investment in northern Ontario with the aim of strengthening the regional economy. The goal was strengthening the economy of the North by:
  • Diversifying the region's traditional resource-based industries
  • Stimulating new investment and entrepreneurship
  • Nurturing new and emerging sectors with high growth potential.
While the provincial government did commit itself to the development of performance measures for ministry specific initiatives that supported the implementation of the plan, I will be using a broader set of indicators of overall economic performance that are supported by the availability of readily accessible public data.  My first post was an overview of the series while my second post looked at employment. In this third post, I will be looking at new investment spending as measured by building permits.