Prince George will see the strongest economic growth among the seven mid-sized cities covered in a Conference Board of Canada outlook.

Following growth of 2.6 per cent last year, Prince George’s economy is forecast to make further gains over the next two years, with real GDP rising by 2.4 per cent this year and 2.8 per cent in 2017.

“The Prince George economy has been growing at a healthy pace for several years, and 2016 should be no different,” said Conference Board associate director – municipal studies centre Alan Arcand. “We expect that much of the city’s growth this year will be fuelled by strong gains in forestry, construction, finance, insurance, and real estate.”

On the heels of five years of growth, output in Prince George’s primary and utilities industry is projected to keep rising, albeit at a slightly cooler annual average rate of 2.6 per cent this year and next.

Growth is being driven by stronger U.S. new home construction activity, which has generated higher demand for B.C. wood products.

The local construction sector will also see strong growth this year.

Multiple-unit housing starts are set to hit a 20-year high in 2016, boosted by the start of construction on the 173-unit RiverBend Seniors Community complex in April.

On the non-residential side, much of the work on land clearing, road construction, and city servicing has already been completed on the $382-million Prince George Global Logistics Park, with spaces available for sale immediately. Currently, Inland Kenworth is constructing an 88,000 square foot building in the park that will be ready for occupancy this fall.

Overall, construction output is expected to grow by 4.4 per cent this year.

Thanks to the healthy local housing market, Prince George’s finance, insurance, and real estate industry is poised to expand by 5.6 per cent in 2016, making the sector this year’s growth leader. Although the remaining services-producing industries will post more moderate gains this year, overall output growth in the services sector is still projected to come in at 2.5 per cent.

Following a steep 8.2 per cent decline in 2015, employment is expected to rebound this year and next, increasing by 4.5 per cent and by two per cent, respectively. This should allow consumer spending to maintain its positive momentum, with retail sales forecast to climb by 4.6 per cent this year.

“The results of the report are very encouraging and show that the local economy is growing and is expected to continue on an upward trend over the next two years,” said the city’s economic development manager, Melissa Barcellos. “This growth should result in more jobs and a decreasing unemployment rate through 2017.”

“This report confirms what residents in Prince George have felt for a while now: Prince George is open for business and economic momentum is building,” said Mayor Lyn Hall.

The Mid-Sized Cities Outlook 2016 also looked at Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Brandon, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat. The report also includes historical economic and employment data for 31 mid-sized Canadian cities.