A More Populated Central Oregon on the Horizon

by Damon Runberg

July 23, 2018

Central Oregonians love to talk (or complain) about population growth. We are the fastest growing region of the state and one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Usually the conversation revolves around new population estimates from the previous year. However, in the past several years Portland State University (PSU) has begun producing population forecasts for Oregon’s counties and cities going out 50 years. These forecasts are valuable pieces of information for local governments, businesses, and other groups to plan for the future. PSU recently updated the figures with new projections for 2018-2068. Let’s take a look!

Unsurprisingly, the region is expected to continue to grow into the foreseeable future. Rather than look at the long-range forecast for the year 2068, I will focus on the forecast for 2030, as it seems more relevant to those of us alive today. Over the next 12 years, Central Oregon’s population is forecast to rise from 233,590 to around 296,960, a gain of more than 63,000 additional residents (+27%).
Although Central Oregon is one region, Deschutes County, and more specifically Bend, is the elephant in the room. Deschutes County is expected to account for 56,000 of those additional 63,000 residents. In fact, Bend is expected to account for 51 percent of the population gains in Central Oregon by 2030 (+32,200).

Big numbers in our bigger communities. Not a huge shock. If we look at local rates of population growth some of the geographic disparity looks a bit more interesting. The fastest growing cities are also among the smallest in Central Oregon with La Pine expected to be the fastest growing (+46%) by 2030, followed by Sisters (+44%). All cities in Central Oregon are expected to grow by 2030. In fact, the “slowest” growing city, Madras, is still expected to expand by a brisk 15 percent.
Areas outside of urban growth boundaries, the unincorporated or rural parts of Central Oregon, are also expected to see fast growth. For instance, rural Deschutes County is expected to see growth of around 13,000 additional residents (+21%). Rural Crook County is also supposed to see rapid growth (+17%).

In addition to geography, PSU also breaks their projections down by age group. Today, the share of Central Oregon’s population 19 and younger is around 24 percent. By 2030, just 12 short years away, the share of young folks is supposed to drop to 21 percent. The trend is flipped for older residents as those 65 and older currently make up around 20 percent of the population, but are expected to be 24 percent of the population by 2030. Older residents are expected to be both the fastest-growing age group (+55%) as well as the largest net gain (+25,075). Meanwhile the youth population is expected to be our slowest growing cohort.
Access to skilled, educated, and experienced workers is essential if the local economy is going to continue growing. The short-term future, according to PSU, looks like we are likely to see a large number of residents retiring and in-migration of retirees to Central Oregon. A larger share of our population in 2030 will be out of the workforce than it is today as most folks begin retiring around age 65. Productivity is likely going to decline unless we can figure out how to attract more working-age folks to Central Oregon or begin to rapidly increase the automation of tasks currently done by humans. This trend is reflected in our recently released employment projections. There are projected to be around 15,000 jobs added over the next 10 years. However, we expect to see more than 122,000 job openings in Central Oregon to replace workers who retire or make a major occupation change.


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