Below is one quick graph per MSA to help put the strong employment numbers from the past year in better context.
Bend is Rising. Not only did Bend suffer a more severe recession than anything seen in Oregon since Coos Bay in the early 1980s, job loss in Deschutes County was much worse than even in the other housing bust metros across the country. These comparison metros — the 50 largest boom and bust housing metros — are the worst of the worst in terms of the bubble and its aftermath. Even so, Bend is rising and now playing catch-up to the state and nation overall. Job growth of 4-5 percent in each of the past couple of years will do that.
Corvallis: Stable and Growing. Benton County is generally more stable economically than the rest of Oregon and the Great Recession was no different. The city has also been more stable than most of its western state peers, as seen below.
Eugene is growing, following structural changes. Lane County employment overall is now growing 1.5-2 percent annually the past couple of years, however the region underwent a major structural change during the Great Recession. In particular the losses of major manufacturing operations. It is not easy for a regional economy to shrug off such impacts and it takes time to readjust and begin to grow again. Over the past couple of years, all other industries in Lane County have regained nearly 70 percent of their recessionary losses. During this time, state education employment (mostly University of Oregon) has been largely unchanged, after growing strongly in earlier years, so the growth is coming from other private sector industries.
Medford leads the State of Jefferson. At times it appears that Medford and Jackson County get the short end of the stick. University of Oregon’s regional indices continue to show the metro is growing slower than in past expansions and the recent cover story of Oregon Business asks “Will Medford Ever Be Cool?” The region does make for a challenging comparison given it is a growing metropolitan area that receives a good influx of migrants, however it is more geographically isolated and historically tied to manufacturing than a lot of other metros at the same time. Another way to look at is to compare Jackson County with its counterparts in the State of Jefferson. Meford — another housing bust metro — suffered severe job loss during the Great Recession however its growth in recent years is leading the regional recovery. It’s two sides of the same coin: Medford is growing faster than its peers (mostly nonmetro counties) but in-line or maybe a hair slower than many of its metro peers up and down the West Coast or even across housing bust MSAs.
Can Portland take another step up? To me, this is the key to the statewide outlook. Right now all of Oregon’s metros excluding Portland are growing about as fast as they can, or as fast as they have in decades, collectively. It is unlikely they will accelerate further, so if Oregon’s job growth is to pick up even more, it is likely going to be due to stronger growth in and around Portland. Here the story is a bit more mixed. The more reliable, but not as timely QCEW data shows Portland’s 5 Oregon counties both accelerating and decelerating since the last benchmark, while the officially published BLS figures for the entire 7 county MSA show growth holding steady at nearly 3 percent job growth. There is no question that Portland’s regional economy has outperformed the state and about in-line with other big cities across the country. The question is whether or not it can grow faster and sustain rates closer to 3 percent or more.
Salem is rockin’. This may come as a surprise to some, but in the past 2 years, Salem’s job growth has been even faster than the housing boom era, but without the bubble this time, we think. You have to go back to the early to mid-1990s to see such sustained growth rates in Marion and Polk counties that are higher. Salem has now regained about three-quarters of its recessionary losses in terms of employment.
Stay tuned for more regional economic material in our next quarterly forecast, to be released on Thursday, February 19th.