Mapping Oregon job growth

By Josh Lehner
Oregon Office of Economic Analysis Blog

What follows is a mostly graphical update on the landscape of jobs across Oregon. As mentioned in the previous post on the state more broadly, Oregon is near full-throttle rates of growth. This acceleration has largely come from the pick-up in the state’s second tier metros — Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Medford and Salem — all of which are growing at good to excellent rates today.

Of course Portland, and the Columbia Gorge, turned the corner first and regained their recessionary lost jobs ahead of other areas. But these second tier metros are now not far behind. Nonmetro, or rural, Oregon has likewise seen big improvements. While rural Oregon is now growing about as fast as it did during the housing boom, effectively 2 percent, it is still digging out from the Great Recession.

ORMetroNonmetro215On an individual county basis, the share adding jobs at all and at various strengths of growth is looking more and more like past Oregon expansions. The recovery is no longer just one or two areas of the state. Nearly 9 out of every 10 Oregon counties are adding jobs over the past year and half of all counties are growing at 2 percent or more.ORCountyGrowth0215With that being said, not all counties or regional economies are in the same place today. While growth has returned, and is picking up, the median county has regained just half of its recessionary losses (in this case that’s Lane County.) Many of the state’s smaller and generally Southern and/or Eastern counties have regained one-third or less of their losses.

The other areas of the state are seeing big improvements. The hardest hit housing regions of the state are rebounding well and growing relatively strong today. Over one-third of Oregon counties have either regained all of their recessionary losses and are currently at an all-time high in terms of employment, or are close. These 14 counties hold nearly two-thirds of the state’s jobs, including the large metro areas of Bend, Corvallis, Portland and Salem, in addition to the smaller, generally Northern counties.


This last graph, from our most recent forecast, compares current job growth to each of the past three expansions in Oregon.

The metro areas of the state are growing as fast, or faster than they did during the housing boom. Bend and Salem are currently adding jobs today about as fast as they ever have. Rural Oregon is more of a mixed bag, but there are some encouraging signs. While growth rates in the Gorge are low today, the region has clearly outperformed over the whole business cycle and is in a strong position today. The North Coast has fared ok in recent years and is growing near its typical expansionary rates, even if the region has yet to regain all of its lost jobs.

EmpGrowthCompEastern and Southern Oregon are the most concerning when taking this look at the current state of the economy. Rural Southern Oregon, like Eugene, has that stair-step downward trend in growth rates over recent economic cycles, in large part due to the decline of the timber industry. The 1980s recovery saw a cyclical manufacturing rebound in which growth rates were strong for a few years, even if not all the jobs were fully regained in the mills (see here for a longer historical perspective on the wood products industry.) Given that the U.S. economy more broadly has not exhibited the strong, cyclical rebound in each of the past three recoveries, the 1980s growth is not likely to reappear. As such, job growth of 1-2 percent in these areas is likely the typical expansionary rate. Rural Southern Oregon is in this range, while Eastern Oregon is currently adding jobs at a slower pace and has regained 1 in 3 recessionary losses so far in recovery. Its important to keep in mind that demographics, migration and population growth plan a big role in the longer term drivers of regional economies.

All told, Oregon’s economy is clearly accelerating and the growth is spreading across the state. All counties and regions have seen some job growth, even as that growth is uneven across the state. The recovery has turned into an expansion for the metro areas and generally northern counties. The state’s mostly southern and eastern rural counties are expected to see the recovery continue, particularly as the economic drags of housing and government lift and some population flows return. Our office expects the job gains to continue to spread across Oregon in the coming biennium, however at a slightly faster rate than in recent years.

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