Sask. cities can avoid next slump by growing to 500,000

To avoid crashing during the next commodity slump, business leaders urge province to focus on more 'vibrant, appealing' cities.

Report urges governments to focus on urban centres

Doug McNair, the president of McNair Business Development, addresses members of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce. (CBC)
Business leaders say compared to a decade ago, most people believe Saskatchewan is doing well.

But the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Saskatchewan (CMC-SK) has issued a report warning entrepreneurs and governments not to let Saskatchewan rest on its laurels.

They say a renewed focus on making cities more vibrant and attractive will better shield the province from a crash the next time there is an economic downturn.

"I don't think this is about pointing fingers," said Doug McNair, a member of CMC-SK. "This is about learning from the past," said McNair.

Commodity booms and busts 

The report noted historically, Saskatchewan's growth has mirrored the pattern of worldwide commodity cycles. McNair noted that as booms go bust, this province tends to shrink and stagnate, with young people seeking opportunity elsewhere.

He said over the past five years, Saskatchewan has entered a 'supercycle".

The report was released this week in conjunction with the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. It includes a 2013 survey by Praxis Analytics Inc. of 900 people who live in Saskatchewan. Results showed 84.5 per cent of respondents believed the province's economy will perform about the same or even better than today.
Saskatchewan has added 20,000 people per year over the past five years. Most of that growth has been in its urban centres. (CBC)

"There's this real feeling that a lot of opportunity in the province here is going to come from business growth," said McNair.

Bigger urban areas

Since 2010, the report showed 80 per cent of Saskatchewan's immigration growth has taken place in urban areas. In that time, cities and the regions surrounding them were home to almost all provincial employment growth.

It urged governments to work toward cities of 500,000 people or more, to shield the province against outmigration and to sustain growth during economic downturns.

The report encouraged cooperation with rural areas, which currently dominate Saskatchewan's exports, contributing 44 per cent to the province's gross domestic product.

But it emphasized the need to move away from merely shipping raw commodities, to setting up more processing plants and laboratories in urban centres, to draw highly-skilled workers.

"The world has its attention on Saskatchewan," said McNair, "Really our so-called competition isn't so much each other, it's other regions of the country, even other parts of the world."