Commuting in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

March 23, 2017

Many people commute to work in the same county in which they live, and that seems to be the case in Benton, Clatsop, and Lincoln counties, but it’s not necessarily true in Columbia and Tillamook counties. Columbia County’s proximity to the Portland metro area makes it easy for residents to work in those adjacent counties, and most do so. Tillamook County has towns near its northern and southern borders that make it easier for residents to work in other counties.

In all counties the recorded work location of residents is often determined by where their paychecks are processed. This is not always the same as their physical worksite. Workers may telecommute, have mobile worksites or have paychecks processed at a distant headquarters. The following tables show the recorded worksite of the working residents of each county in 2014.

Corvallis not only dominates Benton County’s economy, it provides employment for thousands of commuters from surrounding counties. This is thanks in large part to the presence of Oregon State University, HP Inc., and Samaritan Health Services and their thousands of jobs. As a result more than half of the county’s residents who work do so in the county, and 45 percent work in just Corvallis. Residents who commute out of the county to work tend to head to neighboring Linn County and its cities of Albany and Lebanon. Other commuters head up and down I-5 to Salem, Eugene and Portland employers.
Most Clatsop County residents who work also work in their home county. The county’s economy is largely clustered in its northwest corner, where Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside, and Gearhart are located. Astoria was the most popular destination for work for Clatsop County residents followed by Seaside. A fair number also commuted out of the county to metro areas in the Willamette Valley. Although the county’s most populous city is connected to Washington by the famous Astoria-Megler Bridge, it didn’t carry a large number of commuters out of the county to that state. Nor did many county residents commute south to Tillamook County for work; only 2 percent did so in 2014. Roughly 43 percent of Clatsop County’s working residents have their primary worksite out of the county, mostly in metro areas.
Almost 75 percent of Columbia County residents who worked commuted to other counties to work in 2014 according to the Census Bureau. This percentage continues to increase over the years. Portland was the most popular city for the county’s working residents followed by St. Helens, then Hillsboro. Columbia County residents are also tied to jobs in Washington. About 5 percent commuted to Cowlitz County to the north and nearly 3 percent commuted to Clark County to the east. Cities and unincorporated areas in southern Columbia County are increasingly attractive options for Portland-area workers looking for affordable housing. A recent real estate summary from RMLS showed a median residential property sale price of $251,500 for Columbia County versus $515,000 for adjacent northwest Washington County.
Lincoln County, like Clatsop County, is more isolated from the metro areas in the Willamette Valley than some other counties in Northwest Oregon. So a bit more of its employment is home grown. About 56 percent of the resident workers remain in the county for work. Newport is the county seat and largest city, and has the largest share of jobs in the county. Lincoln City could arguably be the largest city on a nice summer weekend due to its influx of visitors. The city’s travel industry provides many jobs and makes it the county’s second-largest job market.
Just over half of Tillamook County’s working residents remain in the county for work. The city of Tillamook is the top destination for workers and employs 21 percent of Tillamook County’s working residents. Valley metro areas, including Portland and Salem are the next most popular worksites. The other towns in Tillamook County are much smaller than Tillamook, and so employ only a small number of the county’s working residents. More than one-third of the working residents of Tillamook County work in an “other” location, that is, somewhere besides one of the top 10 destinations.
The widespread practice of commuting to work is important to keep in mind when picking a career, job hunting or investing in local job training programs. Rural residents will market their skills where they will be rewarded. Often that is close to home, but increasingly it will be to more distant employers and telecommuting.

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