Coos County’s Employment and Business Changes in Perspective

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

December 14, 2017

Coos County, like much of rural Oregon, has recently reached record low unemployment rates (5.7%, October 2017). However, the county has yet to return to pre-recession peak employment levels. Is there perhaps another meaningful economic measure that would shed some additional insights into this situation? Businesses generate jobs and sustain them. It is helpful to look at and compare Coos County’s employment levels alongside the numbers of total businesses during this dynamic period.
County Employment Trends, 2005-2017  

Although the shift from peak employment to the depths of the Great Recession varied depending on location and industry, the official national start date was December 2007, and the 18-month recession ended in June 2009. This timeframe was not the reality in Coos County. Employment peaked in fall 2006, and job loss continued throughout 2009 and well into late 2010. Early indications of growth observed in 2011 slowed and did not reappear until mid-2013. The seemingly sporadic road to recovery is readily seen in the graph.  

Since the county’s economy is seasonal, it is helpful to compare total nonfarm employment levels at the same time each year. The peak employment level occurred during October 2006 at 23,910 jobs. By October 2010, during its low point, total nonfarm employment had dropped to 21,180. Coos County shed more than 2,700 jobs (11%). These losses extended across nearly all industry sectors, with the exception of health care and social assistance. Between 2010 and 2014, even though recovery was somewhat sporadic, the county experienced a net gain of 820 jobs. Steadier job growth developed during 2014 through 2017 (+710 jobs). In spite of these gains, by October 2017, Coos County remained 5 percent below the peak employment levels of 2006 (-1,200 jobs).
County Businesses Set the Pace for Employment

Businesses generate employment opportunities, or reduce them, in response to conditions in the marketplace. As the economy contracts during recessionary periods, businesses respond by cutting back on employees; in some circumstances, businesses close. The number of Coos County payroll businesses grew between 2004 and 2006, a period of economic expansion.
There were 2,051 businesses in Coos County in the first quarter of 2007. However, the overall economy was changing, and local employment levels were shifting downward; a lag that suggests businesses cut back on payroll but otherwise maintained their presence in the community.

As the Great Recession deepened, Coos County lost businesses. Although there was a slight uptick in 2011, with a corresponding increase in employment, business losses continued to be felt throughout the county, reaching a low of 1,799 businesses in the first quarter of 2014. Overall, the county lost more than 250 payroll-generating businesses (-12%).

As the local economy shifted into a stronger recovery in 2014 through 2017, the business community responded adding nearly 175 payroll businesses. Industry sectors seeing the greatest rates of growth included construction (17%), information (11%), professional and business services (9%), and financial services (8%). Manufacturing, a sector noted for increasing use of technology and other cost and labor-saving strategies, continued to lose firms (-5%). Although the business community has not regained its pre-recession number of payroll firms, its recovery has been quite robust in recent years.

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