Since when can a 38% plunge in housing construction starts be considered strong?
“It is healthy,” said Stephanie Slaman, business development officer with the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.
“The numbers comparing 2019 so far with 2018 are skewed because 2018 and 2017 were a boom. The construction activity we’re seeing right now is considered average historically in the Central Okanagan.”
In the commission’s second-quarter economic indicators report, housing starts were the only index of nine to show a decline, and it is a steep one.
From January through June this year, construction started on 794 homes of all kinds — single-family detached, townhouses, condominiums and apartments.
That’s a 38.3% fall from the 1,287 starts over the same period in 2018.
“When you look at that specific comparison, yes, it does look bad,” said Slaman.
“But if you consider the past five years, housing starts have increased in the Central Okanagan by 95%.”
So, all told, the region’s economy is bouncing along positively.
“Yes, it’s quite buoyant,” said Slaman. “Almost all indicators are on an upward trend.”
The eight other indicators are:
— Population: Up 2% over the past year to 208,864.
— Labour force: The total number of people employed is 104,233, up 2.6%. The unemployment rate in June was 3.7%, compared to 5.5% in June 2018.
— Job postings average 2,100 each month, up 8.9% from last year.
— Median new home price: $1 million, up 3.6% from the first quarter. In Vancouver, the median new home price is $1.9 million. The new home price is different from average selling price of a resale (used) home, which is currently about $713,000 in Kelowna.
— Average rent: $1,267 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, a 10% boost over the past year. The rental vacancy rate is 1.9%, a reflection that developers built rental apartments over the past few years to feed demand created by a vacancy rate of 0.5% just a couple of years ago.
— Business licences: There are 13,678 licensed businesses in the Central Okanagan, a 4.5% increase over the past year.
— Building permit values: The total value January through May this year is $424 million, up 4.9% from the $404 million during the same period last year.
— Airport passengers: From January through June, 1,026,168 passengers departed and arrived at Kelowna International Airport, a 1.5% hike over the same months last year. A record 2.1 million passengers used the airport in 2018.
The Central Okanagan has long promoted itself as the ideal place to live, work, play and invest.
“We are a growing region, and people want to move here to take advantage of that,” said Slaman.
“We also have strong support for business, including the university, college and airport.”
High technology and tourism are two of the Central Okanagan’s top-performing sectors.
That’s a reflection of high-tech entrepreneurs and workers being attracted to the region for its four-season beauty, relative affordability and recreational lifestyle.
Those same attributes attract tourists, sports tournaments and conventions.