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Do the feds have a responsibility to help Ottawa's downtown economy recover? – Ottawa Citizen

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The question came up Tuesday after a presentation by the Ottawa Board of Trade at a meeting of city council’s finance and economic development committee.

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Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the economic health of Ottawa’s downtown by bringing public servants back to offices?

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The question came up Tuesday after a presentation by the Ottawa Board of Trade at a meeting of city council’s finance and economic development committee.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury asked board of trade president and CEO Sueling Ching if the organization had formalized a request to the federal government for more information about when employees would be coming back to downtown offices after COVID-19 forced thousands of public servants to work from home.

But Ching said the unknowns applied to all workplaces, not just federal ones.

“What we’re trying to get a handle on with frankly, not just the government as an employer, but all employers, is what the appetite is for return to office,” Ching said.

“Even CEOs that we have met with who have a national mandate are struggling with how to get back to the office in a safe way, in a way that supports what their workforce wants to do, and that they can retain that workforce.”

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Ching said the board of trade was working on ways to boost “employee confidence” about going back to the office.

For months, city hall has been trying to learn the intentions of the federal government when it comes to the return of public servants to downtown offices.

The status of federal workers is particularly important as the city tries to project ridership levels for OC Transpo. When the 2022 municipal draft budget is tabled on Wednesday, there could be plenty of guesswork at play when it comes to revenue forecasts in the transit department.

The city also has its eye on the economic health of retail and service industries in the core as the traditional consumer base thinned out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are positive signs, however.

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Cushman & Wakefield’s analysis of Ottawa’s downtown retail showed a vacancy rate of one per cent in the second quarter of 2021, an improvement from 1.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the downtown retail vacancy rate was 3.1 per cent, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s research.

During the committee meeting, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry encouraged Mayor Jim Watson to liaise with the federal government on “promoting and encouraging people to come back to work.”

A downtown Ottawa-based cabinet minister now has oversight of the federal government’s administration, with Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier taking over as Treasury Board president. Fortier’s riding includes part of downtown, east of the Rideau Canal, including the ByWard Market and Rideau Centre.

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After the committee meeting, Coun. Laura Dudas, who as the committee’s vice-chair has also worked closely with the business community during the pandemic, said work-from-home mandates issued by downtown employers had generated economic activity for shops outside the core.

Dudas said businesses on St. Joseph Boulevard had been fairing well during the pandemic with work-from-home residents spending money at their local shops.

But the downtown question looms large.

“I think now is the opportune time to have that conversation about how can we as a city, but, even as residents, support local businesses in the downtown core who over time have become very reliant on daytime workforces supporting their businesses,” Dudas said in an interview.

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Downtown businesses will need to diversify their customer bases and consider what services residents need, Dudas said. The city can do its part by promoting downtown events, she added.

The city has no control over when, or if, employers bring workers back to their offices.

Dudas agreed that the city can no longer rely on the federal government to protect the economic health of downtown.

“There’s an opportunity here to see how we can strengthen our downtown businesses for the long term (considering) we don’t know what the future of work looks like,” Dudas said.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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LETTER: Sidney working towards a vibrant economy – Sooke News Mirror

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In the spring of 2014, Sidney’s then-mayor Cross struck a mayor’s downtown revitalization task force and I was appointed vice-chair to Mark Dickinson’s chairman. Mr. Dickinson led a cross-functional team of dedicated citizens, representatives from the chamber of commerce, Sidney BIA, as well as town staff to renew the economic development strategy for Sidney. Going in, we knew there were several iterations of well-intentioned committees in the past and we mused would we be able to forge a new strategy.

Hours were spent in the Arbutus Room at town hall over several months on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, prioritizing an action registry and producing a report to present to council on our findings. The council of the day accepted the report just prior to the civic election.

Mayor Cross retired and a new council reviewed and ratified the report which provided four pillars for success and a roadmap to achieve them. It included the recommendation to establish an economic development committee of citizens willing to ‘roll up their sleeves’ to operationalize the recommendations. If this model wasn’t successful after a year or so, it was recommended that a consultant be engaged to fine-tune the strategy and the tactics.

The EDC was formed and quite frankly was ineffective due to several strong personalities with differing agendas and goals. Members resigned, new members stepped in, but it became clear that ‘Plan B’ needed to be effected. The EDC is still an entity in the town but I am pleased to see that cooler heads have prevailed and a consulting firm with expertise in this area has been engaged.

I applaud this decision and sincerely hope the contract deliverables can leverage the town’s strengths and mitigate any perceived weaknesses in support of a vibrant business economy.

Brian Losie

Sidney

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Nobody seems to know what's going on with the economy – CNN

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A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

(CNN)If you’re confused by the US economy, which simultaneously shows signs of strength and cause for concern, you’re not alone.

The economy is on the road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, reeling from inflation or a source of disappointment on jobs creation, depending on who you’re talking to.
It’s probably all three, and what happens from month to month seems to be something of a surprise. That element of unpredictability might be the most normal possible thing given the shock of the pandemic — the extraordinary government intervention to save the economy is unlike anything anybody alive today has ever seen.
It’s hard to decide how important any single thing is.
Let’s look today at jobs.
Government data released Friday showed the US economy gained 210,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.2%. A low rate traditionally signals full employment, meaning that nearly everyone who wants a job has one.
And yet!
Most stories about the November jobs report described it as “disappointing” in the first sentence, but also proof that the pandemic recovery is moving along.
Why the disappointment? Tappe wrote: “Economists had expected more than double the number of jobs created in November, forecasting a continuation of the buoyant economic recovery over the past two months. Instead, the November jobs gain was more reminiscent of the pre-pandemic economy, when employers added a smaller but steady number of positions, at least on the face of it.”
At the same time, there’s the good news. The jobs report suggests the pandemic recovery is progressing. The country has created more than 6 million jobs this year, and labor force participation increased to 61.8%, the highest level since the pandemic hit.
Much of the disappointment stems from expectations. The jobs report is based on two surveys — one of businesses with payrolls and one of households about their economic situation — that are conducted by the government mid-month and released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in tandem on the first Friday of each month.
“Weird jobs numbers,” tweeted Jason Furman, who led the Council of Economic Advisors during the Obama administration.
“Very strong household survey: unemployment down to 4.2% & labor force participation up as employment up 1.1 million,” he tweeted. “But the normally more reliable payroll survey shows only 210K jobs added.”
He’s not sure what’s going on: “Some explanations may emerge but it may just be measurement error.”
Where do expectations come from? Leading up to the monthly release, economists and banks publish their own expectations for what the surveys will find. If the government data doesn’t hit those expectations, disappointment follows.
I talked to Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, about what we do and do not learn from these reports.
She said they need to be viewed as pieces of information, not the full picture, in part because the surveys can overstate things and miss the changing composition of the workforce.
Revisions to jobs reports from recent months have confirmed stronger job growth than what was shown by the surveys.
Still, it’s best to know the latest information, even if we know it’s likely to change, she said.
Also, the pandemic. There is also the pandemic element to confound economic expectations, just like it has confounded people’s lives.
“Everyone in this economy today and the people that are making these predictions have never lived through a pandemic that hit the labor market so strong,” said Gould. “And so their models are not necessarily capturing the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.”
I asked David Goldman, managing editor of CNN Business, for his thoughts on why these reports seem to confound expectations each month. He came back with three points:
  • This is a particularly unusual environment. It is making predictions really difficult for economists. The labor shortage, supply chain crisis, energy crunch, inflation and Covid-19 situations all wrapped into one make for a delicate balancing act. We should cut economists a break.
  • Right in the long run. Economists actually have been proven correct over the past several months when they initially were thought to be wrong. That’s because the reports keep getting revised higher in subsequent months as Labor Department economists get more data. It’s not only hard for economists at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to figure out — it’s hard for the government, too.
  • Don’t focus on expectations. The forecasts aren’t the important thing here — it’s the actual data. And one month doesn’t a trend make. We’ve had some shockingly good jobs data in recent months, and November wasn’t all that bad — just not quite as good as we had expected.
There’s uncertainty elsewhere. Leaders at the Federal Reserve, like Chairman Jerome Powell, had been preaching that inflation was temporary — calling it “transitory,” meaning it wouldn’t permanently affect the economy.
But in a signal that inflation may last a little longer than expected, Powell told lawmakers this week the Fed may end some of its pandemic stimulus efforts — they call it “tapering” — earlier than expected.
“At this point the economy is very strong and inflationary pressures are high and it is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases … perhaps a few months sooner,” Powell said.
One wrench thrown into the economy has been the resilience of the coronavirus. We may not quite understand how the surge of the Delta variant over the summer and fall arrested progress.
CNN’s Tappe and Nathaniel Meyersohn wrote about the Delta effect back in August.
Now that the Omicron variant is emerging, it, too, could send things in a new direction.

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Omicron Variant May Be Good For Economy – Forbes

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The omicron variant of Covid-19 has sparked great fear. With time, we may find the fear to have been justified, but we may find the opposite: that this is good news for the economy.

It’s still early days for our knowledge of omicron. Waiting to learn more seems to make sense, but consider this: Business decisions are being made every day. Any person who waits for perfect certainty—about the economy, technology or Covid-19—will never make a single decision. In many areas decisions have to be made this week. So it’s worthwhile to consider how omicron may be good for the economy.

Omicron seems to be displacing the delta variant in South Africa. Ted Wenseleers showed that delta’s share of total Covid-19 cases in South Africa has plummeted while omicron has surged. Because the early indications show that omicron was highly transmissible, it could well displace the delta variant around the world.

So far omicron has triggered a surge in infections in South Africa, but not a comparable increase in deaths. There’s good reason for the virus to mutate to be less dangerous. Bugs that kill their hosts don’t replicate as much as bugs that allow their hosts to remain alive. Many viruses in the past have evolved to be milder. We cannot take this idea too far, however.

The omicron virus may have mutated so that it has greater ability to infect those who already had been exposed to earlier variants. That’s no surprise to South African scientists, who have observed a very high past infection rate in their population. The virus could not get ahead by finding people never exposed to any version of Covid-19, so it found a way to infect the previously ill, this theory goes.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said recently that current vaccines probably help protect against severe illness from the omicron variant, and that new vaccines are under development that would be more targeted against omicron. Given the speed with which our vaccines were developed, we may have new versions being tested in the lab right now. The question will be how long we have to wait for regulatory approval.

From an economic forecasting viewpoint, business leaders should consider the upside potential of omicron. Although it is way too early to be sure, we may find that the disease becomes dominated by a less dangerous mutation. Illness would continue if this happens, but with fewer deaths and hospitalizations. People would come to feel more comfortable dining out, traveling and seeking routine non-Covid healthcare tests and procedures. The rosy view is far from certain, but current evidence is not more pessimistic.

Companies that that are especially sensitive to the Covid pandemic should try to delay big decisions. We’ll have better information in the coming weeks. But decisions that cannot be delayed should probably consider the possibility of a stronger economy rather than greater Covid problems.

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