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Oregon's Leading Economic Regions
by Dallas Fridley
Published Mar-25-2013

Oregon's leading economic regions still lag Oregon and its largest metropolitan statistical area, the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro MSA, in one key category; population growth. Beginning in 2007 and moving five years forward to 2012, Oregon's population rose by 3.9 percent, while Portland growth reached 4.1 percent, which matched the U.S. gain. Comparatively, the Mid-Columbia Region rose by 3.1 percent and the neighboring Columbia Basin Region grew by 2.8 percent.

Despite having a slower pace of population growth, the leading regions managed to put up some fantastic results in several key areas:

  • Per capita personal income (PCPI) growth - At the national level, PCPI rose by 5.2 percent over the four-year period ending in 2011, to reach $41,560. On a nominal basis, U.S. PCPI rose by $2,054 since 2007, while Oregon PCPI managed a 4.4-percent gain, rising by $1,577 to $37,527, a little more than $4,000 below the nation. In the Columbia Basin Region (Morrow and Umatilla counties), PCPI rose by 14.2 percent to $31,632 in 2012. That's an increase of $3,943, but about $5,900 below Oregon's PCPI. At the county level, Umatilla County ranked ninth in Oregon for its PCPI gain and Morrow County ranked second, surpassing Oregon's 2011 PCPI by about $500. PCPI in the Mid-Columbia Region rose by a slightly lower 13.5 percent to $35,659 in 2011, a four-year increase of $4,241. Sherman County led the region and the state with a PCPI gain of 35.3 percent, climbing to $55,157, a premium of nearly $13,600 over the nation. PCPI gains in Wheeler (4th), Gilliam (6th), Wasco (8th) and Hood River (11th) counties were also impressive.

  • Labor force growth - The Mid-Columbia Region's labor force climbed to 32,050 in 2012, a five-year increase of about 3,350, or 11.7 percent. The top five counties in order were Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Hood River, and Wasco. The Columbia Basin Region's labor force rose to around 45,250, an increase of about 3,300 or 7.9 percent. Umatilla County's labor force growth ranked 6th, right behind Wasco County, while Morrow was also impressive, ranking 11th. Oregon's labor force grew by just 2.9 percent since 2007, while Portland's climbed by 3.9 percent and the U.S. barely nudged, rising by 1.2 percent.

  • Total employment growth - The broadest measure of employment, as measured by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program (LAUS), tagged the Mid-Columbia Region with an increase of 8.5 percent since 2007, climbing by around 1,900, to total 29,230 in 2012. The Columbia Basin had a similar employment gain, climbing to about 41,450, which translated to an increase of 4.9 percent. In contrast, Oregon found itself facing a LAUS employment loss of 1.7 percent between 2007 and 2012, and the U.S. saw a larger decline, dropping by 2.4 percent. Even the mighty economic engine which is Portland paled in comparison, eking out an employment gain of just 0.3 percent in five years.

Drone aircraft, growth in agricultural output and food manufacturing production, along with some of the country's biggest wind farms highlight the strengths of the local economy.

Graph 1
Population, labor force, employment and per capita personal income 2007-2011