Health employment and population growth have helped Brandon shoot back up the rankings. (GRANT HAMILTON/BRANDON SUN)
Brandon’s not a bad place to live but it’s an even better place to settle if you’re a newcomer to Canada, according to a popular annual ranking.
The city has rebounded in this year’s edition of MoneySense magazine’s Best Places to Live in Canada ranking.
It climbed to 42nd out of 201 cities after falling to 91st out of 200 cities last year.
"I think that, certainly, we’re trending in the right direction," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said after this year’s rankings were released on Wednesday. "I think if we can put some emphasis behind the economic development stats — so that we can ensure that there are good, well-paying jobs for folks in the area — that will improve our standings."
The Wheat City also ranked 20th in the Best Small-Sized Cities category, which applies to cities with a population below 100,000.
Best Places to Live considers housing, commuting, weather, crime, health care, culture, demographics, taxes, wealth and amenities.
St. Albert, Alta., topped the overall rankings, while it was St. John’s, N.L., that made the biggest improvement as it moved to 37th this year from 148th last year.
Despite this year’s improvement, it’s been a rough couple of years for Brandon in the MoneySense list.
It was in the top 10 between 2009 and 2012, and peaked at No. 6 in 2012.
But last year, the Wheat City slid to 91st out of 200 cities. That year’s survey included a new criteria — proximity to an airport serviced by Air Canada or WestJet — something Brandon didn’t have a year ago.
That situation changed in September when WestJet opened a Brandon-Calgary route.
But airport service isn’t heavily rated, so it didn’t propel Brandon up the rankings. Rather, MoneySense deputy editor Sarah Efron said, the city’s unemployment rate and population growth helped it rebound.
The news isn’t all good in the unemployment rate area. At 5.7 per cent, that rate was from 5.1 per cent the previous year. However, Brandon still fared well compared to other cities such as those in southern Ontario which have lost manufacturing jobs.
"Even though the unemployment rate did go up a little bit in Brandon, relative to all of the 201 cities on our list it had a stronger score," Efron said. "I would say that was definitely one of the big factors."
The city’s population growth of 14.5 per cent between 2008 and 2013 also bolstered its standing, Efron said.
The Wheat City also scored fifth best for immigrants to settle.
Immigrants make up 14.7 per cent of the population in Brandon, but MoneySense considered more than the number of new arrivals.
It also took into account factors that would make it easier for immigrants to settle — such as the practicality of walking or riding a bike to work, transit, employment, housing, income, taxes and rent.
The average rent of $595 for a one-bedroom apartment in Brandon and its unemployment rate also helped in this category.
Richard Bruce, executive director of Westman Immigrant Services, said he’s not surprised by Brandon’s strong showing when it comes to being a good place to move to from another country.
It rates well in all the above categories, Bruce said — there are, indeed, jobs here for immigrants. Plus, the city is friendly.
"The complexion of the community is changing," said Bruce, whose organization mirrors the city’s diversity with employees from China, Latvia, Russia, the Philipines, El Salvador, Mexico, Ethiopia, Colombia and England. "I’m actually not aware of any issues over those sort of things for the immigrant population, in terms of being able to mix in."
Decter Hirst said she was pleased with the population growth and strong ranking when it came to being a place for immigrants to settle. That’s a good sign for the labour market, she said.
There are some things the city can’t control, Decter Hirst noted, such as weather which receives significant weight in the MoneySense ranking criteria.
But the mayor said prosperity is a concern, and something can be done about that.
"Property tax, when you compare it to income, is where we start to lose ground," Decter Hirst said. "One of the big focuses we’ve got going forward is economic development, because we have to make Brandon a more prosperous community."
Brandon placed with the 34th lowest percentage when it comes to property tax as a percentage of household income (2.06 per cent).
The cost of housing is also something to be addressed, Decter Hirst said.
Efron pointed out there’s room for improvement when it comes to average household income — the city’s average is $75,376.
According to MoneySense, the average cost of a home here is $231,707, which is 68th most affordable overall.
But Decter Hirst said that figure only seems affordable compared to more expensive homes in hotter housing markets.
"Most folks in Brandon wouldn’t feel as if we’ve got cheaper housing, except when you compare us to other communities," Decter Hirst said.
The full set of rankings and data can be found online at moneysense.ca.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 13, 2014