Construction Industry Building in Three Eastern Oregon Counties

by Christopher Rich

April 20, 2017

The Great Recession hit Oregon’s construction industry particularly hard. Demand for construction collapsed between 2007 and 2010, causing construction employment to nosedive from 104,200 jobs to 67,600; a loss of roughly 35 percent. The industry has been building back lost employment since 2010. Growth was slow at first, but the construction industry has grown 22 percent in Oregon since 2013.
Construction in Oregon is adding jobs faster than any other broad industry sector. For example, for the period 2013 to 2016, the construction industry’s rate of growth was 60 percent faster than the next closest industry adding jobs: professional and business services (+14% for the period). In addition, the Oregon Employment Department’s 2016 Job Vacancy Survey reveals that the construction industry had the third highest number of job vacancies for the year. Construction and extraction jobs topped the list of vacancies by occupational group, and construction laborers was second on the list of the top 25 occupations by highest number of job vacancies in 2016. Three counties in Eastern Oregon share a similar story with the state. Baker and Wallowa saw construction losses of roughly 35 percent during the recession, while Union County had a slightly smaller a decrease. Baker County’s construction employment plunged from an industry peak of 290 jobs in 2007 to a low of 190 in 2011. Wallowa County’s construction employment peaked at 200 and then plummeted to 130 jobs during the same period. In Union County, construction employment fell 30 percent, from a high of 560 jobs in 2007 to a low of 390 jobs in 2013.

All three counties showed strong gains from 2013 to 2016. Baker County’s construction employment grew 26 percent (+50 jobs) for the period to reach 240 jobs. Baker’s growth rate surpassed the state’s rate of growth for the industry. Wallowa County also surpassed the state growth rate, adding back 30 jobs to reach 160 construction jobs in 2016, an industry gain of 23 percent. Union County’s growth rate for construction was less than the state’s from 2013 to 2016, but it was still strong at 15 percent. Union County construction employment has also been rising since 2013. From 2015 to 2016, the industry grew 12 percent. Union County reached 450 construction jobs in 2016.

Construction was the fastest growing industry within each of the three counties from 2013 to 2016. For Baker County, construction grew 63 percent faster than the next closest industry adding jobs: professional and business services (+16% for the period). For Wallowa, construction grew only slightly faster than professional and business services (the second fastest growing industry), which was up 20 percent for the period. And for Union County, construction grew just 10 percent faster than the second fastest growing industry: transportation, warehousing, and utilities grew 14 percent for the period.

The accompanying graph shows an index of construction employment for each of the three counties and Oregon. Peak employment for the industry was pegged at 100. Industry loss and growth relative to the peak can be seen along with the current and historic trend. 

Note: For this report, data was analyzed from six of the eight Eastern Oregon counties (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Union, and Wallowa). Umatilla County and Morrow County were excluded from the analysis.

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