Curry County, an Economic Update

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

June 29, 2017

As the wet months of winter and early spring are now behind us and last year’s economic data have been checked and rechecked, now is a good time to take a look at Curry County’s economy. Usually, we analyze business activities on the basis of business type and ownership – is the business owned by private individuals or is the activity one that government oversees? For example, we typically look at private schools and health care providers separately from public providers. However, since the services and workforce needs are the same, we could view these private and public entities as a combined category. In other words, all education and health-related work is grouped together regardless of whether services are provided by the county’s healthcare districts and public schools or by individuals running their own businesses.

Curry County’s Industry Sectors from a 30,000-foot Perspective

Grouping similar businesses allows us to analyze the county’s economic sectors by function. This is particularly useful when our educators and labor market planners want to see which business areas have the greatest number of workers – and where there might be future job opportunities or training needs. The graph below shows this 30,000-foot view of Curry County’s industry sectors by function.
More than 60 percent of the county’s employment in 2016 occurred within three industry sectors. Curry County’s education and health services account for over 23 percent of county employment. This includes not only professional staff (e.g., teachers, physical therapists, etc.), but also the office staff, grounds crews, and others who work for these business entities. The second largest industry sector in our area is trade, transportation, and utilities; retail trade accounted for 83 percent of the jobs. Curry County’s leisure and hospitality sector employed more than 1,200 people in 2016, and it is still the third largest industry sector in our area. Not surprising, job growth is expected to be strongest in the largest sector: education and health services. Also projected to offer employment opportunities are manufacturing; leisure and hospitality; professional and business services (this includes staffing agencies, call centers, as well as accounting offices, etc.); and trade, transportation, and utilities.

Workforce Characteristics of Some Industry Sectors

It may seem odd that manufacturing, which only employs 9.2 percent of the county’s workforce, would rank second in anticipated job growth. This can be explained, in part, by looking at the age-related characteristics of this industry’s workforce. It has been said that, “demographics are destiny” – for some of our businesses, that is true. Education has the oldest workforce members with 42 percent of those employees being age 55 or over – in other words, at least four out of 10 workers is within 10 years of retiring. In addition, roughly 10 percent are already over age 65! Many workers in health care and social assistance, another critical industry, are also anticipating retirement, as 31 percent are age 55 or older. Manufacturing and construction workers tend to be older; 27 percent are at least age 55. Additionally, 8 percent of construction workers, an industry well known for physical labor, are over age 65. All of these industries offer opportunities that often require not only post-secondary education or training but also on-the-job experience. These people will likely be difficult to replace.
At the other end of the spectrum are those industries offering more entry-level positions. For example, 15 percent of retail workers – important contributors to our tourism businesses – are between ages 22 and 24. Roughly one-third are under age 35. Leisure and hospitality-related entities, the backbone of our seasonal and dynamic tourism scene, also offer many of our youth their first jobs.

Joined at the Hip: Construction and Housing

From an industry viewpoint, construction work falls into one of three categories: construction of buildings (35% of the industry’s workforce), heavy and civil engineering construction (39% of the workforce), and specialty trade construction (26%). Job activities, skills required, wages, and availability of workers varies depending on the category and specific building project. Although there are some entry-level employment opportunities, the construction industry encompasses a wide-range of highly skilled occupations. This is clear from the age breakout of this industry’s workforce: 75 percent are at least age 35, and 27 percent are age 55 and over.
Curry County’s construction industry saw its peak employment levels in 2006, just prior to the Great Recession. Construction employment opportunities shriveled up, as evidenced by the lack of building permits issued for single-family residential homes. This decline in building permits, coupled with a slow-down in previous years, laid the groundwork for limiting current and future housing options as well as employment opportunities for construction workers. Forty-nine percent of Curry County’s housing was built prior to 1980.

An Economist’s Standard Approach: Supply and Demand

When we talk about an area’s economy, we always seem to end up talking about supply and demand. From a workforce perspective, we have data from the Oregon Employment Department’s recent vacancy survey which tells us that businesses continue to have unmet needs for skilled workers. Our demographics reveal that we can anticipate many retirements within the next 10 years – retirements that will likely remove the county’s most experienced and skilled workers from the workforce across nearly all industries.

As is typical in rural Oregon, Curry County relies on in-migration to maintain and grow the region’s population. People, in turn, generate demand for goods and services as well as supply the workforce for meeting these demands. Economic capacity-building is often characterized as the dynamic exchange between identifying demands, inventorying supplies, and characterizing and implementing effective and efficient means for developing infrastructure and workforce supplies to meet the demands. Stay tuned, there are challenges and opportunities ahead!


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