The La Grande office of the Oregon Employment Department receives a monthly summary of all employers newly registered with the agency that have an Eastern Oregon or Idaho address. The agency generates these reports primarily for tax purposes, but a few years ago your author reckoned it might be worth tracking the contents of these reports for any potential regional trends.
So, beginning in late 2010, we logged the number of newly determined nonfarm employers in those monthly summaries from each Eastern Oregon county. We excluded domestic household employers as well as new employers that were simply successors to existing businesses.
What was left was thought to be a proxy for the number of genuinely new, locally based nonfarm employers. The graph shows how the number of such new establishments varied from 2011 to 2013 in the Eastern Oregon region.
For what it's worth, the trends depicted here are perhaps most encouraging for Union County and most discouraging for Baker County.
But please don't read too much into these trends. For example, an auto parts store recently opened in Baker City. Even though that new establishment is adding to commerce in Baker County, it's not counted in the graph because the store is part of a national chain that was already doing business in Oregon. It wasn't a newly established, locally based business, which is what the graph tries to measure.
Typically, the employers captured by the graph's columns are very small businesses. The graph isn't the final word - and not even close to the most important word - in Eastern Oregon's economic story. It's merely one minor but hopefully interesting piece of a much larger puzzle.