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Through much of the 20th century, British Columbia’s economy was centred around the extraction and processing of its wealth of natural resources with fishing, forestry and mining forming the province’s foundation. These industries continue to play an important role in the economy, especially in some of B.C.’s smaller communities. In recent decades, however, the dominant position once enjoyed by primary industries has been challenged by a variety of service- and non-resource-based industries. Three quarters of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) originates in the service sector, while resource-based and non-resource-based industries account for only one quarter of the total.

A more liberal continental trading environment under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and expanded markets in Asia encouraged the diversification of the British Columbia economy and spurred domestic demand for goods and services. These forces brought with them a greater degree of urbanization, as new construction, manufacturing and service employment was created in urban centres.

A booming housing market, together with large infrastructure improvement projects undertaken in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, contributed to strong growth in the construction industry, which became the biggest employer in the goods sector in 2008 and 2009. However, it still ranks behind manufacturing in terms of its contribution to GDP. Construction, together with many other goods industries, is facing challenges as an economic slowdown has affected the demand for new housing and infrastructure projects, while markets for forest and other resource-based products have been slumping.

Although the diversification away from primary industries has made British Columbia’s economy less vulnerable to changes in international markets for natural resource commodities, half of the province’s goods production is still based on the extraction or processing of agriculture, fishing, forestry or mining products. Despite a shift to other types of products, manufacturing is still dominated by the wood, pulp, and paper industries. Forestry and energy products are the province’s main exports, but there has been a considerable diversification of the export mix over the past two decades. In 1988, for example, forestry accounted for more than half (56%) of exports, but by 2009, that share had fallen to one-third (32%). Over the same period, the share of exports of consumer products increased from less than one-fifth (18%) to roughly one-quarter (23%).

Finance, insurance and real estate is by far the largest industry in the province, accounting for nearly a quarter of its GDP. Part of this is an estimate of the value of owner-occupied housing, but even when this is excluded, finance, insurance and real estate activities remains considerably larger than any other industry. Other key players in the BC economy include manufacturing, retail trade, health care and transportation and warehousing.

Gross Domestic Product - 2009
$Millions
%
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting
3,517
2.4
Crop and Animal Production
1,062
0.7
Forestry and Logging
1,848
1.2
Fishing, Hunting and Trapping
133
0.1
Support Act. for Agr. & Forest
454
0.3
Mining, and Oil and Gas Extraction
4,170
2.8
Utilities
2,861
1.9
Construction
9,053
6.1
Manufacturing
12,183
8.2
Food Manufacturing
1,524
1.0
Wood Product Manufacturing
3,046
2.1
Pulp and Paper Manufacturing
1,077
0.7
Primary & Fabricated Metal Mfg.
1,456
1.0
Computer & Electronic Product Mfg.
470
0.3
Wholesale Trade
6,628
4.5
Retail Trade
9,898
6.7
Transportation and Warehousing
9,195
6.2
Information and Cultural Industries
5,795
3.9
Finance, Insurance, Real Estate
36,484
24.6
Professional, Scientific, Technical
7,382
5.0
Administrative and Waste Mgt
3,438
2.3
Educational Services
8,096
5.5
Health Care and Social Assistance
10,136
6.8
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
1,799
1.2
Accommodation and Food Services
4,433
3.0
Other Services
4,585
3.1
Public Administration
8,156
5.5
All Industries
148,101
100.0
Source: Statistics Canada
*Components will not sum to the total due to the nature of calculating chained GDP

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