Employment in the Hamilton census area grew by the second largest amount in the country in the third quarter, a BMO economic analysis shows.

But commuters may be clouding the rosy picture about jobs in the city, as many of those employed may be working in other centres.

The Hamilton census area – which includes Burlington and Grimsby – posted 12.5 per cent growth in employment from the same period a year earlier, according to the third-quarter BMO Regional Labour Market Report Card.

That was behind only Kelowna, B.C., for employment growth.

BMO economist and report author Robert Kavcic called the increase "massive" and noted that the unemployment rate had also fallen in the Hamilton CMA to 4.2 per cent.

"Hamilton is the real eye-catcher," Kavcic wrote.

But he issued a warning, because the numbers come from a survey based on where you live, not where you work:

"As we often caution, this partly reflects commuting out of Hamilton to jobs located elsewhere in the GTA," Kavcic wrote.

He noted that other Toronto-near cities like Kitchener, Barrie, Guelph and Oshawa were also in the top 10 for job growth in the country.

Torontonians moving to Hamilton, attracted by relatively lower house prices, has been a much-talked-about trend for the city.

New commuting numbers, from the 2016 census, are due out next month — which might help determine how much of that employment growth is jobs being created in Hamilton and how much is the impact of new residents who work elsewhere.

'If it's driven mostly by commuters, that's not such a great story for Hamilton'

Local economics watchers had mixed feelings on the numbers.

"If it's driven mostly by commuters, that's not such a great story for Hamilton," said Sara Mayo, a social planner with the Social Planning Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC).

But Viktor Cicman, a research analyst for Workforce Planning Hamilton, said the sectors seeing growth between September, 2016 and September, 2017 are sectors that have hubs or growth in Hamilton:

Retail, manufacturing and healthcare all posted gains, he said.

"The industries that are growing the majority of them are based in Hamilton," he said. "Hamilton's economy is doing quite well."

Both Cicman and Mayo said that until the new census numbers come out next month, they are hesitant to say whether commuting is what's driving the apparently good economic news.

Good news on jobless rate

Meanwhile, Cicman said, the jobless rate was encouraging.

The 4.2 per cent logged in September is extremely low – the last time it was below 5 per cent was April 2005, Cicman said.

"It's actually quite amazing how low the unemployment rate is," he said.

That may shake out into a higher rate when the numbers are in for the whole year, but he said he was heartened by the number.

Mayo said over the long term, Hamilton has been doing well in the last several years as it comes out of a deep hole left by deindustrialization.

But the SPRC found that in the 2011 census, Hamilton had fewer jobs than workers, with a jobs-to-workers ratio of 89 per cent, compared to Toronto with 125 per cent and Waterloo region with 101 per cent.

"Hamilton is its own city with its own economic base and we want to continue to grow that so that people can work and live in the same city," she said.

Both Cicman and Mayo said it's important to watch for more detailed data that talks about whether Hamilton job growth is part-time or full-time, and what the wages are.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca