EO Q&A: The Goods-Producing Labor Force

by Christopher Rich

April 2, 2019

I receive questions from public officials, economic developers, current and potential businesses, organizations, entrepreneurs, job seekers, students, the media, and other folks not mentioned. Many of these questions and answers are worth sharing, such as the following.

Question: What is the available labor force for a wood products manufacturing firm in Union County?

There isn’t a direct answer for many labor market questions. Sometimes data that would directly answer the question and data that’s actually available just don’t align. There is often related data however, that can act as a proxy. With a proxy, the answer is usually a better understanding of what is likely the case.

Union County’s annual average civilian labor force was 11,935 in 2018 and the annual average number of unemployed was 644. Thinking along these lines, we might say that the available labor force for a wood products manufacturing firm was less than 644 at any given time in 2018. Less than, because we can assume not all job seekers are interested in a career in wood products manufacturing, and since we don’t know each job seeker’s work experience or where their job interests do lie, we can’t really be more specific. However, thinking along these lines discounts a large body of currently employed workers who may be willing to switch employers given the right situation. Therefore, the available labor force should also include the potential labor force; people who meet entry-level job requirements, those who have industry experience, and those who have crossover experience or transferable skills, who are either unemployed or currently employed. Thinking along these lines the available labor force becomes much larger.

To get a feel for the number of people in the potential labor force we can look to similar industries. Workers currently employed in wood products manufacturing, those employed in other types of manufacturing, construction workers, and workers in the logging industry all have skills and experience that would likely make for an easier transition to wood products manufacturing. Employment in these industries also suggests interest in the type of work performed in wood products manufacturing. We should also look to neighboring communities since many workers are willing to commute.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s On-The-Map tool provides estimated commuter data. The most recent data is from 2015, but year-over-year changes are historically small so we can assume that 2018 would look similar. Roughly one-fourth of Union County’s workforce commuted from outside the county in 2015. Umatilla, Baker, and Wallowa supplied 10.7 percent of the county’s workforce. Not all commuters came for work in the goods-producing industry (manufacturing, mining, logging, and construction). It’s estimated that one-fourth of inbound commuters worked in goods producing in Union County, and 18.9 percent of outbound commuters left Union for work in the goods-producing industry in neighboring counties.
Annual average private employment totaled 35,070 in the northeast corner (Baker, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa) of Oregon in 2018. Slightly less than one-fourth (22.2%) of private employment was engaged in goods producing: 7,780 jobs. For the four counties individually, this share ranged from 20.4 percent to 23.1 percent with Baker on the low end and Union on the high end.

Not all workers in the goods-producing industry are engaged in wood products manufacturing. Not all workers are willing to switch employers or switch industries. And not all workers are willing to commute from outside the county. Therefore, the actual size of the available labor force likely falls far short of 7,780. However, this data does suggest that the available labor force for a wood products manufacturing firm in Union County is quite a bit larger than 644.


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