Colored Title bar

A look back shows 2019 was a strong year on most key indicators...

Feb 13, 2020
Trevor Lewington
It can be challenging to decipher the mixed messages about the economy in the media and on-line from the reality on main street. On most key measures, the relative health and stability of the Lethbridge economy in 2019 is hard to dispute. 

Gross Domestic Product is an imperfect measure but is generally used to understand the activity occurring in the economy. Lethbridge GDP grew by 5.1% in 2018, which comes on the heels of 5.8% growth in 2017. These substantial gains have outpaced growth in the province by a sizable margin over the same period; the Alberta economy witnessed growth of 2.3% in 2018 and a healthier 4.6% in 2017. The catalysts behind the local growth were the Primary & Utilities sector (which includes agriculture) along with the so-called Non-Commercial Services sector (which includes Health Care and Education).  These two sectors are the only components of the economy to generate more than $1 billion in local economic activity and witnessed impressive growth of 8.9% and 7.6% respectively in 2018. 

Last year saw the culmination of three major projects that had dominated the local investment landscape over the course of the past decade. In October, Cavendish Farms officially opened its $430 million french-fry plant that was four years in the making; the company will expand its workforce as a result of the investment to approximately 240 full-time staff and plans to purchase more than 16,000 acres of locally grown potatoes after it begins operating at full-capacity. In September, the University of Lethbridge officially opened its Science Commons building, its new state-of-the-art science centre; this facility took nine years from concept to grand opening and cost an estimated $280 million to construct. Science Commons should open an additional 450 spaces for students in the sciences and offers a vast array of space for community members to use. The ATB Centre Phase 2 officially opened its doors in June; the facility had a total budget of $109.5 million ($150 million combined total for both phases) and the new 380,000 sq. ft. centre now offers fitness, aquatics, curling and skating under one roof. 

With new facilities and other businesses looking to grow and expand, size and changes in the labour force are significant to any company. The Lethbridge-Medicine Hat economic region had a 6.0% unemployment rate in 2019, well below the provincial figure of 6.9% and third lowest among all provincial regions. In terms of industry composition, jobs gains in our region were particularly sizeable in the areas of manufacturing, wholesale & retail trade, health care & social assistance, as well as educational services.  

With the unemployment rate down, and Lethbridge now the province’s third largest city with a population of 101,482, potential external investors ideally will view Lethbridge as a viable destination. The annual population growth rate of 1.7% in 2019 exceeded both the provincial (1.6%) and national (1.4%) comparatives. This sustained strong growth bodes well for the economic health of the city moving forward and opportunities to expand quality of life offerings for residents. 

Another positive note, and good economic indicator for the region is the housing sector. Investment in the multi-family sector was robust with 292 new housing starts of this type which includes semi-detached, row and apartment units in 2019. In fact, this is the most annual activity in this category since 2009. Permit Activity was also strong in this area, with over $85 million in construction value approved over the past two years for new duplex and apartment, condo and multi-family units. 

One of the biggest questions we hear from both residents and businesses in Lethbridge is what is going on with the airport? Activity in 2019 was up 19% from 2018 and 81% from 2017 at Lethbridge airport with more than 100,000 passengers taking off from Lethbridge airport in 2019. There were 4,737 flights to and from YQL last year with just 3% of all flights being cancelled. Of the flights cancelled, weather was the reason almost half of the time. 

2019 was a strong year for the Lethbridge economy and a year we can grow on in 2020 and ideally for many years to come. We aren’t a city without its challenges and we look forward to working with our partners and residents to help move Lethbridge forward, Brighter Together.

More News