Central and Southern Oregon Coast Economy for 2021

by Erik Knoder

July 8, 2022

The economy of the central and southern Oregon coast added 1,270 payroll jobs in 2021 as business restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic eased. Job losses during the brief pandemic recession in 2020 occurred first and hardest in the leisure and hospitality industry, and this industry added the most jobs during the recovery in 2021. The total annual job growth in 2021 was 2.8 percent.

The economy of the central and southern Oregon coast is mainly contained in Lincoln, Coos, and Curry counties. This analysis is based on economic data for those three counties. The coastal cities of Florence and Reedsport lie in Lane and Douglas counties, but the economies of those counties are dominated by interior cities and they are excluded from this analysis.

The growth in payroll employment was uneven throughout 2021 with actual losses in the total number of jobs in January, May, September, and December. February and March saw the highest job gains, adding 280 and 410 jobs, respectively. November saw the addition of 250 jobs. The largest losses occurred in May (-260 jobs) and January    (-160 jobs). Overall job growth in 2021 was just moderate and sporadic. That job growth has reversed so far in 2022. Seasonally adjusted employment in May 2022 was 200 jobs lower than in December 2021, and it remained nearly 2,300 jobs lower than in February 2020, just before the pandemic recession.

The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates for all three counties fell significantly in 2021, and all three counties ended the year with unemployment rates that were below their long-run averages. Lincoln County’s rate in December 2021 was 5.8%, Curry County’s rate was 5.9%, and Coos County’s rate was 5.4%. The unemployment rates in all three counties have declined further in 2022 and are indicative of the tight labor markets in each county.

As noted above, the leisure and hospitality industry grew the most (+890 jobs) in 2021. This boosted the industry’s employment by 12%. Trade, transportation, and utilities was in second place, adding 250 jobs, of those 180 jobs were in retail trade. Retail was also hit hard by the pandemic recession. Professional and business services added 150 jobs, and financial services added 140 jobs. On the other hand local government cut 120 jobs in 2021. This was due to losses in all three main components of local government: tribal government, public education, and remaining non-tribal, non-educational entities. As a corollary to local government losses, private education and health services also shed a few jobs in 2021. Overall, schools and health care did not rebound as quickly as some other industries.

Total employment in the three central and south coast counties increased in 2021 by more than 3,000 jobs. In fact, total employment by December 2021 was about 630 higher than prior to the pandemic recession. This growth in total employment has continued in 2022, with May’s total employment reaching 54,705. This was about 1,650 more people employed than just prior to the recession in February 2020. This growth in total employment contrasts starkly with payroll employment, which is still below its pre-recession level and has fallen slightly in 2022. The primary difference between the two measures is that total employment includes people who are self-employed and payroll employment does not. The number of self-employed people has increased dramatically in Oregon as the economy has recovered from the pandemic recession.

The Oregon Employment Department collects published stories of business expansions, openings, and closures, mainly from local newspapers. A search of this database revealed 52 articles mentioning new or expanding businesses in Lincoln, Coos, and Curry counties from January through December 2021. These included Charter Communications, Wave Broadband, Coast Community Health Center, Oregon State University, Samaritan Lincoln Medical Center, Pacific Air Comfort, Oregon Coast Artisan & Trade Education Collective, and numerous hospitality and retail businesses. A search for business closures yielded only six articles including Shangri-La, First Rise Baking, Halco Welding, and Shutter Creek Correctional Facility.

Visitor spending data from Dean Runyon Associates shows that destination spending 30% in 2021 (the latest year available) in Lincoln County, 22% in Coos County, and 40% in Curry County. Total visitor spending in the three counties was $966.9 million in 2021.

As the region’s economy recovered housing prices increased fairly dramatically. Sales data from RMLS showed that median prices for residential property increased 29.4% over the year to December 2021 in Coos County to $310,500. In Curry County for the same period prices increased 6.0% to $359,300. In Lincoln County, the median price increased 32.9% to $460,000. Such prices may present a barrier to recruiting new workers to the area.

The increase in total employment, numerous new and expanding businesses, and many job openings all point to an economy for the central and southern Oregon Coast that has mostly recovered from the pandemic recession but has changed by having more self-employment and less payroll employment. Low unemployment rates and numerous help wanted signs show that the labor market is tight. The principal risk to future economic growth is probably higher interest rates as the Federal Reserve Bank seeks to reduce inflation. In the long run the lack of affordable workforce housing and child care, aging of the workforce, increasing retirements from the baby boom generation, and lower in- migration can all work to reduce labor supply and constrain growth.


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