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'There is hope on the horizon'

Home construction, building permit values, job postings and airport passengers are way down, yet the number of business licenses, population and average apartment rent is up.

The Central Okanagan 2020 year-end economic indicators are a jumbled mess befitting the pandemic.

"What we have to remember about these numbers is they are for the entirety of 2020," explained Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission manager Krista Mallory.

"The region had a good two-and-a-half months at the start of the year before COVID hit, and then there was the lockdown from March to May, when it got really bad, and then there's been some recovery since. It's certainly better now than it was in the spring."

</who>The economy is slowly and steadily improving as COVID eases, according to Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission manager Krista Mallory.

The statistics, released Monday, track nine key indicators that show where the economy has been, where it is now and where it's headed.

"As the economic and job market indicators demonstrate, the region continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19," said Mallory.

"But, there is hope on the we continue to navigate immediate impacts and position for recovery."

In fact, the current optimism is based on infection numbers steadily declining, talk of restrictions being eased and the vaccine being rolled out, albeit slowly.

The indicators:

- At the end of the year, the Central Okanagan's population was 222,748, up from 217,229 on Dec. 31, 2019.

The 1.9% hike makes the Kelowna Census Metropolitan Area (Kelowna, Lake Country, West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation and two other Central Okanagan electoral areas) the fastest growing in BC and the fourth fastest in Canada behind Oshawa at 2.1% and Halifax and Kitchener-Waterloo with 2% each.

Kelowna was actually tied for fourth with Calgary and Saskatoon, which both also had 1.9% growth rates.

- Job postings down 28.7% year-over-year, a reflection there were job losses and little hiring during COVID.

The number of employed in the Central Okanagan at the end of 2020 was 100,458, down from 105,358 at the same time in 2019.

However, the unemployment rate shows the job market improving with a December jobless rate of 4.7%, a marked improvement from the 9.6% in lockdown May.

- Despite talk of pandemic-caused business closures, shutdowns and failures, the number of licensed businesses in the Central Okanagan is 14,535, up 4.7% from 13,882.

- Home construction starts of all types (single-family, townhouse, condominiums and apartments) was down 19.4% to 1,794.

Building permits were issued for construction valued at $837.7 million in 2020, a 33% plunge from $1.3 billion in 2019.

While construction has slowed, sales of homes on the Multiple Listing Service spiked in 2020 as the pandemic prompted people to move to bigger and better places after lockdown dissatisfaction in a smaller home and lifestyle seekers moved from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto to Kelowna.

- The median price of a new home was down 7.7% to $877,500.

Yet, average selling price of pre-owned homes on the Multiple Listing Service were up in January with single-family homes 14.4% higher year-over-year at $752,900, townhouses up 11.2% to $512,700 and condos edging 3.4% to $401,500.

- The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Kelowna was up a marginal 0.4% to $1,368.

- As expected with harsh travel restrictions, the passenger count at Kelowna International Airport freefell 64% in 2020 to 737,467.

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