Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Benton County's Uneven Recovery
by Pat O'Connor
Published Apr-23-2013

Benton County (Corvallis MSA) is one of the few areas in Oregon where employment has grown enough to return its pre-recession employment level. Benton County's seasonally adjusted employment peaked in May 2008 at 38,700. Between May 2008 and July 2009 Benton County lost more than 2,100 jobs, or 5.6 percent, as the Great Recession struck. July 2009 was the county's "low water mark" in terms of employment during the recent recession. Since July 2009, Benton County's employment has shown steady growth, reaching its pre-recession employment high of 38,700 in October 2012.

Looking only at total nonfarm employment might lead one to conclude that everything has returned to normal in Benton County's economy following the recession. That isn't quite the case.

The county's employment by industry reveals just how uneven the recovery has been.

On an annual average basis, Benton County's total nonfarm employment shows slight growth of 0.3 percent between 2008 and 2012, adding 110 jobs. Over that period of time, more than one out of four jobs were lost in the county's manufacturing sector, a loss of 1,150 jobs. The mining, logging, and construction sector also shed one out of four jobs between 2008 and 2012, a decline of 350 jobs. These steep losses were not unique to Benton County. Sharp employment declines occurred in the manufacturing and construction sector throughout Oregon and the U.S. during the Great Recession.

Two sectors that reported double-digit percentage declines in Benton County employment are information in the private sector, and local government in the public sector. Between 2008 and 2012, information employment declined 22 percent, shedding more than 200 jobs. Companies within information include: internet service providers; cable television providers; newspapers; and television and radio stations. Local government employment declined 11 percent between 2008 and 2012, losing more than 300 jobs. The vast majority of losses in Benton County's local government occurred within local education (K-12).

One thing that makes Benton County unique is Oregon State University. In recent years, student enrollment reached all-time highs at many of Oregon's universities and colleges, and Oregon State University is no exception. As more people choose to further their education during this difficult labor market, it has led to rapid employment growth at the schools. Oregon State University is included in Benton County's state government employment. Between 2008 and 2012, state government employment in Benton County added more than 1,500 jobs, growing 17 percent. Nearly all the growth in state government was due to growth at Oregon State University. The 1,500 jobs added within state government helped to offset the loss of 1,500 jobs in the county's manufacturing and construction sectors.

Another industry trend in Benton County that is not very unique has been the double-digit percentage growth in health care from 2008 to 2012, growing 10 percent and adding more than 500 jobs. Heath care is one of the few industries that managed to gain employment during the recession, both in Oregon and nationally. Professional and business services also grew nearly 10 percent between 2008 and 2012, adding 350 jobs. Professional and business services includes temporary staffing agencies. The staffing agencies are considered a bellwether industry. The industry is often one of the first to show declining employment as the general economy slows and enters a recession, but on the flip side, it is typically one of the first industries that will show employment gains when an economy starts to expand and employers' demand for workers increases.

Benton County's total employment may be above its pre-recession level in 2008, but the recovery has varied hugely by industry. Without the rapid employment growth at Oregon State University in recent years and the continued steady growth in the county's health care sector, Benton County would look like most other counties in Oregon. That is, they would still have a hill to climb in reaching their employment levels from before the Great Recession.

Table 1
Benton County Annual Average Nonfarm Employment 
  2008 2012 2008-2012 Change 2008-2012 Percent Change
Total nonfarm employment 38,590 38,700 110 0.3%
  Total private 26,260 25,180 -1,080 -4.1%
    Mining, logging, and construction 1,430 1,080 -350 -24.5%
    Manufacturing 4,370 3,220 -1,150 -26.3%
    Trade, transportation, and utilities 4,290 4,230 -60 -1.4%
    Information 970 750 -220 -22.7%
    Financial activities 1,450 1,330 -120 -8.3%
    Professional and business services 3,580 3,930 350 9.8%
    Educational and health services 5,330 5,870 540 10.1%
    Leisure and hospitality 3,630 3,580 -50 -1.4%
    Other services 1,220 1,190 -30 -2.5%
  Government 12,330 13,520 1,190 9.7%
    Federal government 580 580 0 0.0%
    State government 8,760 10,280 1,520 17.4%
    Local government 2,990 2,660 -330 -11.0%
Graph 1
Benton County total nonfarm employment seasonally adjusted 2007-present