Posted by: Josh Lehner | April 12, 2012

Portland, Seattle and the Rest

Continuing down the regional research trail and found this to be very interesting. Much much more to come in the coming weeks. A couple of notes about the graph. One, February 2008 is chosen as the beginning point since Oregon’s total nonfarm employment peaked that month, while Washington’s peaked in March 2008, just one month later. Two, Portland is defined here as the five county MSA (Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill), while Seattle is defined here the three county MSA (King, Pierce and Snohomish).

Interesting to note that both of the major metropolitan areas have experienced nearly identical employment cycles over the past four years (even if the exact composition of the changes is somewhat different). These regions are also responsible for the vast majority of the employment gains the past two years. Non-major MSAs and rural areas of both states have yet to fully share in the recovery to date, if at all.

Non-Seattle Washington is doing better that Non-Portland Oregon both during the recession and so far in recovery. There are a number of reasons for this, including Hanford, Housing and Agriculture, to name three. Tri-Cities, Washington (Benton and Franklin counties) is home to the Hanford Site which received approximately $2 billion in additional funding from ARRA, which greatly benefited the local economy by boosting employment and income. The region actually added nearly 10,000 jobs through mid-2011 (+10%), however as the additional funds have more or less been spent at this point, the region is losing jobs today to the tune of 2,400 in the past six months.

Two other contributing factors worth noting are housing and agriculture. While many regions experienced a housing bubble and bust, Medford and Bend were particularly bad and devastated their local economies. Conversely, mid-sized MSAs in Washington like Spokane and Tri-Cities did not experience housing bubbles of similar magnitude. See graph below.

Finally, while commodity prices have generally been high in recent years – supportive of agriculture – it appears based on what crops are grown in which regions that the composition of agriculture is also at play. This is more of a hunch based on the overlap between crop types and employment trends than any industry research I have seen (please pass along any that you know of). The regions more reliant on grains, grass and trees have fared worse than those dominated by fruits (apples in particular). The grass seed farms and nurseries in the Willamette Valley have been hit hard by the recession while Washington enjoyed a record apple crop in 2010 and 2009 and 2011 were good years as well.

Summary: The large metropolitan areas of both Oregon and Washington have experienced very similar employment trends so far this business cycle and have captured the vast majority of employment gains these past two years. The rest of the states – outside of Portland and Seattle – have seen different experiences and have yet to fully share in the recovery, if at all. While not a complete list, Hanford, Housing and Agriculture appear to explain some of the differences between these regions.


  1. […] of Economic Advisors last week at our meeting, the following graph is a modified version of the Portland, Seattle and the Rest post a few weeks back. The differences are that two lines have been added: Washington excluding […]

  2. […] of Economic Advisors last week at our meeting, the following graph is a modified version of the Portland, Seattle and the Rest post a few weeks back. The differences are that two lines have been added: Washington excluding both […]

  3. […] examining regional employment trends. This is taken from previous research shown on this blog (see HERE and HERE). It’s important to note that many of the more rural areas not only had […]

  4. […] figures, and has also detailed regional employment trends over the business cycle, see here, here and here. However we have yet to tackle the regional unemployment trends, that is until now. Since […]

  5. […] on previous research, Portland is driving statewide employment growth and the other metropolitan areas in Oregon have […]

  6. […] discussed previously, the Portland MSA has been the source of growth in the state in recent years while regions outside of Portland have seen no net employment gains. […]

  7. […] get me wrong, I am all for the Portland vs Seattle and Oregon vs Washington comparisons (see job growth and tax comparisons, e.g.) With that being said, when it comes to city to city migration trends it […]

  8. […] regions the other day, it can be useful to track recovery with other regional economies. Last time we checked in on employment in Oregon and Washington, the recession and recovery in Portland and Seattle were nearly identical. The largest difference […]

  9. […] more broadly is it’s impact on local and regional economies. Way back when we first examined Portland, Seattle and the Rest, one of our working hypothesis was that strong apple harvests and higher prices helped rural […]

  10. […] the bigger picture issues with the economy in recent years, including the long-term unemployed, the urban-rural divide and middle-wage jobs. To take the analysis a step further, our office is introducing the Economic […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: