Optimism unchanged among Saskatchewan business owners

Small business optimism in Saskatchewan is relatively unchanged according to the latest numbers from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB).

Figures from the organization’s monthly business barometer were released on Thursday. They show the province with an index of 58.5 in September, which is slightly above last month’s index of 57.9 in August but well above the 50.9 registered in Sept. 2017.

CFIB chief economist Ted Mallett said there’s still a lot of uncertainly among business owners on the prairies, who are still cautious following the drop in commodity prices four years ago.

“There’s still a long way to go before we get back to where optimism was back in 2011 through 2014, when readings above 70 were really common,” Mallett explained. “Now we really haven’t been above 60 for, really, only once over the past two years now. Those are the kinds of things that show there’s still a lot of recovery that has to take place in Saskatchewan.”

Nationally, Quebec business owners overtook their Prince Edward Island counterparts as the most optimistic in the country. Confidence in la belle province jumped to 74.5 in September, a 2.7 index increase from August. Ontario saw the biggest overall gain, jumping from 57.6 points in August to 61.2 points in September. Alberta remained the least optimistic province with an index of 54.8, followed by British Columbia (55.9) and Newfoundland and Labrador (56.3).

With a few exceptions, the national optimism index saw little change nation-wide. Mallett said uncertainty surrounding the international markets, particularly the future of NAFTA, may be contributing to that lack of growth.

“We still have NAFTA uncertainty. We still have commodity prices more or less where they were through the summer. No big surprises with the dollar or inflation rates policy, so we’re not really that surprised that there hasn’t been much movement,” he said. “I think most businesses are waiting to see how some of the major policy issues will play out and I think NAFTA is the number one concern right now for businesses.”

Saskatchewan businesses owners listed “insufficient domestic demand” as their main operating challenge (51 per cent). A shortage of skilled labour was the second biggest hurdle, while management skills and time constraints came in third. Roughly 13 per cent of Saskatchewan businesses said they play to increase their number of full-time employees, while 15 per cent said they planned to decrease the number of workers.

Prince Albert Chamber of Commerce CEO Elise Hildebrandt said some local businesses have to travel further afield for work than they would like, but otherwise they’re content with the current climate.

“It’s holding steady,” Hildebrandt wrote in an email. “As a Chamber, we are happy with steady. We always want our businesses to succeed. As to the future, at the moment our comments are ‘let’s see how things go.’”