Gas Station Employment, Helping Fuel Eastern Oregon

by Christopher Rich

April 17, 2018

Gas stations in any Eastern Oregon county with a population below 40,000 may now offer self-service 24 hours a day, according to legislation that took effect in January 2018. While Umatilla County’s population is roughly 80,000, seven of Eastern Oregon’s eight counties have a population below 40,000: Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Union, and Wallowa.

The seven Eastern Oregon counties that can now allow 24-hour self-service have a high concentration of gas stations and gas station employment. Altogether, the counties had 54 gas stations to serve a combined population of 109,355 people in 2017. This translates to one station for every 2,025 residents and 7.8 workers per 1,000 residents. Gas station employment for the area grew 29.0 percent since 2010 to reach 856 workers in third quarter 2017. Employment in the industry represented 1.8 percent of the labor force or 18 workers for every 1,000 in the labor force.
Morrow County showed the most growth in gas station employment since 2010 among the individual Eastern Oregon counties. Morrow added a Love’s Travel Stop near Boardman in 2016 and the county has likely seen increased traffic flow due in part to major construction projects in the area and the close proximity to I-84. Morrow had one gas station for every 1,699 residents and 13.4 workers for every 1,000 residents in 2017. Gas station employment represented 2.7 percent of Morrow’s labor force or 27 workers for every 1,000 in the labor force.

Four of the remaining six counties also had high ratios of gas station workers to residents and workers to labor force. Baker, Harney, Malheur, and Union had between 6.8 and 8.7 gas station workers per 1,000 residents. Baker, Harney, and Malheur’s gas station employment represented nearly 2.0 percent of the labor force for each of the counties. Harney had the highest ratio of gas stations to residents with one station for every 1,051 residents; Malheur had the lowest with one station for every 3,185 residents. The location of these counties relative to a major transportation artery is likely a key driver of gas station employment. Baker, Malheur, and Union lie along I-84 and each county’s major city lies along the interstate as well. Burns and Hines in Harney County lie along Highway 20, which is the major connection between the Boise, Idaho area and destination points in Oregon such as Bend, Eugene, Klamath Falls, and Medford.

Grant and Wallowa were more toned down than other Eastern Oregon counties. Grant did see significant employment growth in the county’s five gas stations. Employment rose 75.0 percent to reach 42 in 2017. In Wallowa County, gas station employment grew by 25.0 percent since 2010, which brought the county to 25 workers in 2017. Grant and Wallowa had one gas station for roughly every 1,500 residents. Both counties had relatively low ratios of workers to residents and workers to labor force. This is likely driven by the geographic location of the two counties. Neither county lies along a major shipping corridor. Both counties have only five gas stations to choose from, and these stations cater predominately to the county’s residents and seasonal tourists rather than travelers on a schedule looking to expedite a fill up.

While the new legislation creates an opportunity for self-service, it doesn’t require it. The legislation also stipulates that if a gas station is part of a retail establishment that sells products such as snacks, food, and beverages then the gas station must have an employee available for full-service between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The way individual firms will react to the new law is largely unknown. One gas station may pull back on full-service to save on costs while a competitor may try to attract customers by increasing their level of full-service. Gas stations are left to operate within the stipulations of the law, such as the availability of full-service at retail establishments during daytime operating hours.  

For more on this subject check out A Handy Travel Guide for Oregon Gas Station Employment and House Bill 2482 on

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