The City of Nanaimo reports that a bustling economy is keeping pace with a fast-growing city.
At a city council meeting Monday, April 3, the city’s economic development officer Amrit Manhas presented the annual ‘State of the Nanaimo Economy’ report, providing statistical information about population and demographics, development and housing, and jobs and employment levels.
Manhas noted the city is one of Canada’s five fastest-growing metropolitan areas, and the report mentioned that Nanaimo’s population growth rate between the 2016 census and the 2021 census was 10.3 per cent, higher than B.C.’s growth of 7.6 per cent and Canada’s growth of 5.2 per cent.
The report projects that the City of Nanaimo’s population is expected to grow from 102,000 to 140,000 by 2046.
“Our city continues to be a magnet for new residents as well as new businesses…” Manhas told city councillors. “Population growth is very important because it speaks to our attractiveness as a place to live, to work and to invest. It increases our consumer base; it expands the pool of workers that we have in our community.”
She said in 2021, nearly 2,200 people moved to the Nanaimo, with 71 per cent of them between the ages of 15-65. She noted that last year’s census showed that Nanaimo got younger, as the average age of a Nanaimo resident was 44.8 years old in 2021, compared to 45.5 years old in the previous census.
Manhas mentioned the City of Nanaimo’s $410 million in building permit values in 2021 and said housing starts were up nine per cent in a year when some comparison cities showed a decrease in housing starts.
The report noted that average rent went up in Nanaimo from $1,198 in 2021 to $1,356 in 2022, though the vacancy rote also improved slightly from 1.6 per cent to 2.2 per cent.
Coun. Janice Perrino asked when the city’s pace of development might show impacts on the housing market, and general manager of development services Dale Lindsay replied that while nearly 1,400 units were created in the city last year, the city needs that number of new housing units every year just to keep up with growth.
“We’re hoping as these new units come online we’ll see things like the vacancy rate hopefully begin to ease up a bit,” he said. “We’ve seen a very low vacancy rate for a number of years now.”
On jobs and employment, Manhas reported that the number of jobs in Nanaimo grew 10.8 per cent between 2016-21, with nearly 1,500 new jobs in the health and social services, more than 700 in construction and close to 700 in educational services. Last year, there was “strong” growth in sectors such as accommodation and food services that had been “really decimated” during the early years of the pandemic, she said. Nanaimo’s labour force, in 2022, grew faster than the average for Vancouver Island and B.C.
“Historically Nanaimo’s labour force participation has always been lower than B.C. and Canada, but higher than Vancouver Island-Coast,” Manhas said. “But since 2017 we’ve been seeing that our participation rate is trending really close to B.C. and Canada and this is consistent with more younger people moving into our region, and it could partly be the face that more [retirement-age] people are also staying in the labour force.”
Job postings in Nanaimo were 38.7 per cent higher in 2022 compared with 2021, with Island Health and then Vancouver Island University the top employers by number of job postings. The unemployment rate in 2022 was 3.6 per cent, lower than the rate on the Island, the province or the nation. There had been discussion of the City of Nanaimo’s job openings earlier in the meeting Monday.
“I know it’s been a struggle for a lot of organizations just finding people to fill [positions],” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “We’re advertising at our council meetings now.”
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