Commuting in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

September 14, 2020

Many people commute to work in the same county in which they live, and that seems to be the case in Benton, Clatsop, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties, but it’s not true in Columbia County. Columbia County’s proximity to the rest of the Portland metro area makes it easy for residents to work in those adjacent counties, and most do so.

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 2015, but keep in mind that the worker counts in distant locations may be overstated.

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, Hewlett-Packard, and Samaritan Health Services and their thousands of jobs. As a result of this job availability, a little more than half of the county’s residents who worked did so in the county, and 41 percent worked in just Corvallis. Residents who commuted out of the county to work tended 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.
Clatsop County had the largest share (61%) of working residents also work in their home county. The county’s economy is largely clustered in its northwest corner, where Astoria and Warrenton are located, and along the ocean where Seaside, Gearhart, and Cannon Beach are located. Astoria was the most popular destination for work for Clatsop County residents followed by Seaside and Warrenton. 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 1.5 percent did so in 2015. Roughly 39 percent of Clatsop County’s working residents have their primary worksite out of the county.
Almost 75 percent of Columbia County residents who worked commuted to other counties to work in 2015, 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 2.3 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 $299,900 for Columbia County versus $516,600 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. Roughly 60 percent of the county’s working residents worked within the county in 2015.

Newport is the county seat and largest city, and it 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.

Although the records indicate that more than 1,000 residents commute to Portland for work, it’s probably not the case that they are all driving the two-plus hours each way every day. This is likely a case when the data overstate the actual commuting. Some of these Lincoln County residents are almost certainly working remotely for Portland companies or have their paychecks processed in Portland.
Nearly 60 percent of Tillamook County’s working residents remain in the county for work. The city of Tillamook is the top destination for workers and employs 24 percent of Tillamook County’s working residents. Valley metro areas, including Portland and Salem, are also popular worksites. The other towns in Tillamook County are much smaller than Tillamook, and so they each employ only a small number of the county’s working residents. The county is unusual in that so many of the working residents of Tillamook County work in the county, but not in its largest city.
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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