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Grant County's Employment Slide Persisted in 2012
by Jason J. Yohannan
Published Mar-8-2013

Do you remember 2004? Facebook emerged as a small social networking site at Harvard. Greece hosted the Summer Olympics. Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour de France cycling title. And nonfarm employment increased in Grant County.

The fates of Facebook, Greece, and Lance Armstrong veered in different directions since 2004. So, too, did employment trends in Grant County. That's because 2004 was the last time Grant County's total nonfarm employment increased.

On an annual average basis, Grant County has gone eight successive years - eight years, for crying out loud - without a single instance of job growth (Graph 1). About the best thing we can say for that time span was that nonfarm employment was no worse than unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

Total nonfarm payroll employment in Grant County peaked way back in 1992 at 2,960. Over the next two decades, the county lost fully 25 percent of those jobs. Timber-related industries and the federal government - two of the traditional mainstays of Grant County's economy - each employ fewer than half the people they did 20 years ago.

As of 2012, total nonfarm employment in Grant County was at a 29-year low. It's not unreasonable to state that Grant County's job picture was already mired in recession long before the Great Recession began; it suffered through the Great Recession's downturn along with just about everywhere else; and it remains stuck in a recession today.

Not only that, but the local unemployment rate basically hasn't budged since 2009. Oregon's annual average unemployment rate hit its recent peak in 2009 and has been trending downward ever since. Not so in Grant County, where the annual average jobless rate has been trapped in the same 13 percent range for four years.

On a brighter note, agricultural employment - which, in Grant County, consists mostly of cattle ranching operations - has grown over the past couple of years. And some new nonfarm jobs may be on the way. According to news reports from the Blue Mountain Eagle, Community Counseling Solutions is building an acute mental health facility in John Day - the Juniper Ridge Acute Care Center - that will begin operating this year, employing 20 to 25 people when fully staffed. The newspaper also reports that a New Jersey company, Enviro Board Corp., is purchasing a seven-acre tract at the Grant County Airport Industrial Park and plans to use the site to produce environmentally friendly building materials at a plant that could employ more than 100 workers. These new additions should help repair some of the damage the Great Recession caused in the local economy.

Graph 1
Grant County's nonfarm job count is still trending downward