It appears the thermometer was not the only thing cooling off in Brandon over the month of December.
Housing starts and permits issued over the last month inched higher, while other property starts in both the commercial and industrial sectors mimicked the cooling of pervious months, seeing a decline in the number of permits floating around the community for new construction projects.
This new stat would leave many to wonder whether this is further evidence of a larger industry-wide decline, with the market cooling to better represent the true numbers in the community or whether this is a new norm for building in Brandon.
On the housing side of it, there is no doubt in the latter part of 2010 and the balance of 2011 the numbers of starts and established houses changing hands in Brandon was at all-time market highs. Entry-level affordability took a hit, while those in the home sale and building divisions took the market by storm with new construction opportunities, including the massive expansions that took place in the city’s south end.
The evidence this week shows that on the residential side numbers continue to climb with 2013 seeing slightly more than $77 million in investment over the 437 permits issued, a sharp year-by-year increase from both 2011 and 2012; the flipside of the coin though being industrial and commercial construction starts take a steep and sharp decline.
Some truly interesting contrasts are at play here, and many more political questions that come out of a cooling-off period in both the commercial and industrial sector.
Is it as a result of an increase to the PST level in the province? However, that happened in the latter window of the current stats. Is it as a result of what many perceive is a business climate seen to be hostile to commercial development? Is a civic plan that has seen a shift to increasing the housing sector for a community desperately in need to meet a demand? Or is it a business decision made in times that are more stable and not so volatile to starts like gasoline to a flame?
All seem to be part of a collective of possibilities, and all may have played into the decline. In any case, the idea of shifting mindsets to building housing seems to be a positive step, albeit at the expense — or so it would seem — of the commercial and industrial sectors.
This growing city appears to be feeling the ebb and flow many other similar cities have fallen victim to. There is only a finite amount of activity happening in any given year, and a finite amount of business to go around. Those in the know go where the business goes, and right now the sector creating the windfalls is putting people in houses and condominium units.
We can always argue the affordability aspect of new construction is out of some people’s realm of possibility, but examining properties that support urban density, like many of the projects that continue to take place in downtown Winnipeg, or on First Street North — where a 24-unit complex should see the lights on in 2014 — are steps in the right direction.
Density and adequate, affordable options make sense for this community. High-volume density is a key to whether Brandon takes aim at the next rung and harnesses potential future opportunities.
With those opportunities, the business and commercial development climate should pick up and benefit as a result of the turning local priorities.
I do not profess to be able to pinpoint one single issue that has caused the change. But at the end of the day, if a shift in where the dollars are being spent results in a need being met in the community, then a positive seems to have come out of a negative.
The overall investment shrank, but by most accounts became more focused where the need was the greatest.
Those in the commercial and industrial construction sectors in this community have always been able to adapt, and this undoubtedly will be no different as they continue to shift and move to operations where the needs are greatest.
As for the political side, it should indicate a want for healthy balances between commercial and housing, a goal for civic administrations in years to come. Both provide possibility for this community and both when functioning at their peak show the health of the community is strong.
In all reality, we may not return to the heights of 2011 for the commercial and industrial building sectors for some time, but if housing is any indication, the new ceiling of opportunity could mean reaping a benefit for both as time passes and Brandon continues to grow.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.