BEYOND THE HEADLINES: No easy answers

The part-time nature of many jobs makes it challenging to cover the bills, raise a family or purchase a home.

It was a very visible reminder that not all is good under the Okanagan sun.

On Saturday, people began showing up early  for the Canadian Tire job fair and by the end of it, a staggering 500  applications were filled out for 50 jobs, many of them temporary, as the chain prepares for a move to the vacated Target space at the Village Green Centre.

And while those in line included traditional high schoolers looking for a few bucks to buy a car or save for college, others had years of life experience and are trying to make end’s meet, particularly with the rising cost of living.

Among them was Geoffrey Peter, who has been out of work for three months. The demand for the 50 jobs caught him by surprise.

“It’s a sad commentary on the unemployment situation in the Okanagan,” he told Global TV.

“Something seriously needs to be done with our economy. We need job creation, because there’s a problem.”

Questions about the economy come at the same time that civic leaders remain positive.

As an example, the City of Vernon was quick to brag in December that 2015 building permit values hit about $100 million.

“Commercial development has been great,” said Kevin Poole, economic development manager.

And just last month, B.C. Stats  reported that Vernon’s population had jumped 3.4 per cent from 39,167 to 40,497, making it the fifth fastest growing among B.C. cities.

Poole insists the population figures can draw investors here, and particularly commercial developers.

“It shows we’re a growing community, there’s opportunities and confidence in the marketplace,” he said.

Obviously we all benefit from expanded retail opportunities as it means we can keep our hard-earned dollars here in the North Okanagan instead of travelling to Kelowna. Companies like Canadian Tire deserve credit for showing significant faith in the region.

But for individuals who are unemployed or underemployed, the increasingly part-time nature of the economy makes it challenging to raise a family, pay the bills or buy a home.

Well-paying manufacturing positions have always been sparse in the valley, and unless you were fortunate to get into the unionized public sector, opportunities for earning a solid paycheque have been limited.

The situation appears to be worsening as many locals have abandoned the former panacea of Alberta and come home. More seniors are also back to work as inflation eats into their pensions.

As a result, social agencies, such as food banks and the Upper Room Mission, are experiencing an influx of people needing help.

Earlier on, Peter said, “Something seriously needs to be done with our economy. We need job creation, because there’s a problem.”

But what exactly needs to be done and by who?

Other than lobbying investors to come here, municipalities and regional districts are restricted by provincial legislation. They can speed up development approvals but tax breaks for a specific business are a no-no. The feds are moving ahead with infrastructure investments and while those are critical for the future of communities, the construction jobs are only short-term.

There are no easy answers to stimulating the economy, and that means the lineup for available jobs will remain steady.