Douglas County Continuing to Build on a Strong Foundation

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

March 27, 2018

As Oregon’s economy rises to evermore-stellar levels, the Douglas County economy slowly continues to strengthen. The differing sizes between the two economies makes it challenging to do a direct comparison of employment levels. However, by focusing on percentages – indexing the numbers of people employed and the changes to those levels, it is possible to make direct comparisons between Oregon’s much-larger economy and that of Douglas County.
The graph shows the changes in both area’s levels of employment with 2006 as the index starting point. In 2006-2007, the end of the pre-recession period, total nonfarm employment peaked and then began a pronounced and rapid decline. Both Oregon and Douglas County saw their private-sector businesses hit hardest; this is common as government entities tend to provide services needed by those facing economic hardships, e.g. health and human services. The state’s employment levels are now well-above pre-recession levels. However, Douglas and many other rural counties have yet to return to pre-recession employment levels. The county’s individual industry sectors responded to the tightening economy and subsequent recovery in differing ways.

County Annual Employment Levels Dropped Steadily for Many Years

As with the state and nation, Douglas County’s construction and manufacturing industries led the way into recession. From 2006 to 2012, construction shed 970 payroll jobs (47.1% of the industry’s total workforce); manufacturing lost 2,050 jobs (33.0%; wood product manufacturing lost 1,260 jobs, 31.4% of its workforce). Overall, there were 5,780 payroll jobs lost across all industries (14.5% of the total nonfarm payroll employment).
It took until 2012 for continuing job losses to turn the corner, and the climb out of the trough was long and slow. Forging ahead, by 2017, construction had added 480 jobs (44.0% growth); manufacturing added 650 jobs back (15.6% growth). Other industries adding jobs included retail trade (490 jobs; 12.0% growth); leisure and hospitality (380; 12.4%); and education and health services (590; 13.0%) to name a few. Even with these remarkable examples of recovery, many of the county’s industries still struggled. Just when businesses were in a position to hire, the civilian labor force entered a decline. Results from recent job vacancy surveys confirm the challenges in finding qualified workers. By the end of 2017, Douglas County’s total nonfarm payroll employment remained 5.5 percent below its 2006 level (-2,190 jobs). However, by building on an ever-strengthening economy, during 2014 through 2017 the county continued to show improving conditions across nearly all industries – in 2017 employment grew 1.8 percent.

Major Industry Sectors Are Still Below Pre-Recession Levels

Government in rural areas tends to be one of the largest sources of nonfarm payroll employment, and Douglas County is no exception. This broad arena includes not only the typical government entities, e.g., federal and state agencies, and local police departments, as well as veteran’s medical services, satellite university campuses, local community colleges and public schools. Between 2006 and 2012, government employment declined by 570 jobs (-6.5%). The 2012 to 2017 years of recovery saw growth, but not enough to reach 2006 employment levels. In 2006, government reported 8,710 jobs; by 2017, there were 8,040 jobs – 7.7 percent below pre-recession levels.
Another large sector that has not yet seen full recovery is trade, transportation, and utilities. The overall category dropped 1,160 jobs from peak employment to the depths of the recession, a decline of 15.7 percent. Today (2017), there are a reported 6,760 jobs – still 630 fewer than in 2006. Two-thirds of this sector’s employment is retail trade; 760 jobs were lost (-15.6%), and it is still 5.6 percent (-270) jobs below the peak. Even the rapid growth during 2017 (+1.5%) has not been adequate to fully recover peak employment levels. Another sub-group is transportation, warehousing, and utilities, which is still nearly 16 percent below pre-recession levels.

Professional and Business Services, and Health Care Weathered the Storm

Industry sectors modestly impacted by the recession included professional and business services, and private education and health services. Professional and business services includes many entities engaged in such diverse activities as engineering, accounting, advertising agencies, employment and business services, and waste management-related services. In Douglas County, roughly 40 percent of this broad industry sector focuses on businesses offering employment and workplace-related services. It is not surprising that as the economy sank into recession and in the uncertain, early stages of recovery, businesses needing flexibility with respect to workers and in-office production services would turn to staffing agencies. From 2006 to  2017, the professional and business services industry gained 840 jobs (28.0% growth). Another relatively steady sector has been private education and health services. In Douglas County, health services dominates this industry. Since it is driven more than other industries by the county’s demographic make-up – more than one out of four residents age 65 or older – health care continues to be an important and stable business arena.

Conclusion

Overall, Oregon had recovered the jobs lost to recession by the end of 2014. However, rural areas have seen increasing business growth in only the most recent years. The initial boost in hiring appears to be stabilizing into more sustainable levels that will likely carry these counties into the coming years.


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