Posted by: Josh Lehner | September 15, 2014

Columbia Gorge, Sept 2014 Edition

This post continues with our regular series on the regions within Oregon. For more, see the regional tab at the top of the page.

The mighty Columbia River, second largest in the U.S., borders the Gorge to the North and divides Oregon and Washington. However, the true regional economy bridges the river and the two states. While the job base, with strong concentrations in agriculture – in particular fruits like cherries and pears – is divided on both sides of the river, much of the economic activity, retail sales and leisure and hospitality is primarily conducted on the Oregon side of the Gorge.


A region of strength throughout the Great Recession, the Columbia Gorge outperformed both the state and nation in terms of job losses and recovery.


This economic performance can be tied, at least partially, to three major factors. First, higher commodity prices and good harvests have supported the strong agricultural sector. Second, the regions energy industry has been both a growth driver early in recession with the construction of wind farms, and stabilizing factor with the hydroelectric dams. The region is home to over 4 percent of the entire country’s wind and hydro energy capacity and 60 percent of Oregon’s. Third, the emergence and growth of the unmanned aerial vehicle industry has benefited the region on both sides of the river.


As our office has discussed previously, the border tax effect is real and the Oregon-Washington differences provide a natural experiment, particularly among sin taxes. The border tax effect is particularly pronounced in the Columbia Gorge given that much of the population and most stores and restaurants are on the Oregon side of the river. As such, even though personal income trends are nearly identical on either side of the Columbia, retail sales per capita are 5 times larger in Oregon than in Washington in the region. In total, retail sales are over 8 times larger, however the population base is larger as well in Oregon.


The region’s demographics are fairly balanced relative to the state. However the relative share of children under 18 years old is higher, driven by Hood River, while Wasco matches the state average. The working age population is smaller with the retirement age population larger.

Finally, the top 10 industries in the Gorge are shown below. These are location quotients for 2013 and measure the relative concentration of these industries.

GorgeLQ2013For more on the region, see the Oregon Employment Department’s website for Region 9 and the extensive list of recent articles by regional economist, Dallas Fridley. For more on our office’s regional coverage in Oregon, please see here.



  1. Josh, not sure if you know that Dallas and I put out a monthly set of tables with a combined Gorge unemployment rate and nonfarm employment. I offer a brief commentary on Gorge trends in my monthly press release. Also, my department publishes an occupational wage survey for the Gorge (2014 just published!). Readers can contact either of us to get on an email distribution list.

    • Thanks Scott. I did know you guys did that some times, but did not realize it was every month. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. It’s useful and informative to get the true region together instead of just parts of it.

  2. […] have a housing bubble), and it shows the importance and influence the sector has. Similarly, good agricultural harvests have helped the Columbia Gorge here in Oregon and higher wheat prices in recent years have helped Eastern Oregon as […]

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] tax effect, is a very real. Our office has previously written about it regarding sin/vice taxes, retail sales in the Gorge, and a broader look at Oregon-Washington taxes, including an academic paper I, along with my […]

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