Calgary's job market projected to tighten in 2024, potentially slowing interprovincial migration: report

New data shows that as economic activity slows, business leaders have a more tepid view of Calgary

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After red-hot job growth and streams of workers coming to Alberta, Calgary’s economic development agency says business leaders’ perceptions of the city are “softening.”

New data shows that as economic activity slows — from cuts to consumer spending to affordability concerns — business leaders have a more tepid view of Calgary, coming at a moment when few are considering expansions into new markets.

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“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” said Brad Parry, CEO of Calgary Economic Development (CED). “We take this, and it really forms the basis of our communication underpinning our strategy.”

CED’s data shows 82 per cent of business leaders held a favourable view of Calgary in 2023 — an eight per cent decrease from the previous year. At the same time, 59 per cent of the cohort surveyed believe Calgary has a diverse economy, an 18 per cent drop.

Meanwhile, workers maintained a relatively favourable view of the southern Alberta city with less volatile year-to-year swings: Seventy per cent of workers surveyed viewed Calgary in a positive light, just a two per cent decrease from the previous year.

Business leaders are naturally more sensitive to changes such as inflationary pressures, recessionary trends and geopolitical happenings, Parry said, which explains their drop in confidence.

Slower economy will likely cool interprovincial migration

After a year in which Alberta’s interprovincial population gains hit record highs — even with the final three months of 2023 left to report — economists are predicting migration from outside provinces to slightly ebb this year.

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Through the first nine months of the year, Alberta welcomed more than 45,000 people from across Canada. (Since January 2022, Alberta has brought in nearly 78,000 from other provinces.)

Mark Parsons, chief economist at ATB Financial, expects 2024 interprovincial migration to float between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

“I look most closely at the migration numbers because that is really how people are feeling, and people vote with their feet,” Parsons said, adding Alberta has outpaced Canada on job creation and kept the cost of living and housing relatively more affordable.

Several economic outlooks from ATB, the Business Council of Alberta and Alberta Central project slower economic growth in Alberta for 2024, but above average compared to the rest of the country.

Relative affordability and a strong job market are two keys needed to boost interprovincial migration, Parsons said.

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Calgary is sporting fewer job vacancies this year than last, Parry said, but added the city’s growing startup community is frequently looking for new talent.

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“From my perspective, we still see some positive growth. From a migration standpoint, I don’t know if we’ll see the same volume we’ve seen over the last 18 to 24 months,” he said.

While overall sentiment among business leaders is dropping, Calgary isn’t losing to other major Canadian cities. Business leaders who aren’t interested in expanding into Calgary also aren’t looking to take their business elsewhere, the report said.

These findings match expectations that have been underlined in several reports over recent months. According to a November 2023 report by ATB Financial, more than one third of business leaders are recognizing they need to accept lower margins to maintain current business, and 35 per cent were somewhat or very concerned about the country’s economic outlook over the next year.

CED focusing on attracting aerospace, agriculture workers

On the flip side, workers’ view of Calgary is still strong, the report said, with about 70 per cent having a favourable view of Calgary — just a two per cent decrease from 2022.

And Calgary remains the top Canadian city North American workers would consider moving to, CED said, earning high marks for affordability, cleanliness and safety, and income growth opportunities.

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The report allows CED to calibrate its 2024 strategy, Parry said.

“For us, it’s about reallocating the resources into the place that would have the biggest impact … We know that the aerospace sector is going to need talent, so the team is going to do a deep dive on, ‘Where are other markets where that kind of talent resides, and how do we go into those markets and let them know the value (proposition) for Calgary?’”

Pursuing agriculture, life sciences and manufacturing workers is also on the agency’s priority list this year, Parry said.

CED surveyed 1,021 workers and 445 business leaders from Oct. 2 to Oct. 14 of last year across 10 cities in Canada and the U.S. The survey’s margin of error is no greater than plus or minus 2.3 per cent, said CED. The city-funded organization commissioned research firm Stone-Olafson to conduct the survey.

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