Industry Employment and Wages in Northwest Oregon in 2019

by Erik Knoder

April 21, 2020

Industry employment rose 0.9 percent in 2019 in Northwest Oregon – Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties. Annual wages typically rose about 3.1 percent.

Industry employment increased by 910 jobs (0.9%) in Northwest Oregon in 2019 from 2018 to reach a total of 97,580. Although this is only moderate growth, it is a clear indication that the expansion continued in 2019.

Industry employment in the combined region peaked at 90,504 in 2008. The Great Recession cost the region 4,722 jobs. By 2015 the region as a whole had regained the jobs lost and a new expansion was underway. Of course the counties didn’t grow equally fast. Benton and Tillamook counties had gained nearly all their jobs back by 2014. Columbia County didn’t surpass its pre-recession level until 2016. Lincoln County took until 2018 to recover.

Main Industries

Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) is home to a state university; large manufacturers of food, wood products, chemicals, and paper goods; hospitals; and a large leisure and hospitality industry based along the Columbia River and the Oregon Coast.

The leisure and hospitality industry (17,065 jobs) and the trade, transportation, and utilities industry (15,122 jobs) were the region’s two largest private sectors measured by employment in 2019. Local government – which includes public K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities – provided 17,243 jobs. Leisure and hospitality is most evident along the coast in Clatsop and Lincoln counties. The two counties each have about 25 percent of their total employment in the leisure and hospitality industry. Leisure and hospitality businesses are often strongly seasonal and provide many entry-level jobs and small-business opportunities. The industry serves visitors and recreational fishermen and is commonly used as a proxy for the tourism industry.

The trade, transportation, and utilities industry ranges from 12 percent to 19 percent of each county’s total employment. It is relatively smaller in Benton County (dominated by Oregon State) and larger in the other counties.

Private-sector education and health services is relatively large in Benton County – 18 percent of all employment. The county is home to the Samaritan Regional Medical Center, which has links to four other hospitals. Clatsop County has two hospitals and the second-largest share of employment in this industry.

Northwest Oregon has traditionally had a strong manufacturing industry. Employment in this sector was 10,980 in 2008. Those good times came to an abrupt end late that year. The Great Recession hit the region’s manufacturers hard and jobs were shed in wood product, paper, and electronics equipment manufacturing. Most counties regained some jobs, especially in food manufacturing, and there were 9,194 manufacturing jobs in the five counties in 2019. This remained nearly 1,800 fewer jobs than in 2008.

It’s probably no surprise that local government, including Oregon State University (Go Beavers!), comprises 23 percent of Benton County’s employment. But it might surprise some readers that local government is 17 percent of Lincoln County’s employment, until they are told that all tribal government – including casinos, such as the one in Lincoln City – is included in local government employment.
The county not mentioned specifically so far is Tillamook County, because it had no extremely dominant or absent industry in 2019. Tillamook County takes the prize for having the most diversified economy in the region; no industry comprised more than 16 percent of its total employment.


Annual average wages in Northwest Oregon are typically lower than wages for the state as a whole. The statewide average wage was $55,027 in 2019 versus an average of $45,132 for the five counties in northwest Oregon. The comparison can be slightly misleading, however. Most Oregon counties have below average wages because two populous counties, Multnomah and Washington, have much higher wages.

Although the average wage in trade, transportation, and utilities was a bit low ($33,993), the average wage in leisure and hospitality was even lower ($22,338). This is partly as a result of many part-time and seasonal jobs in the industry. Many jobs in both industries require only short-term, on-the-job training, so they have a relatively large supply of qualified labor available.

Production industries, such as manufacturing and construction, tend to pay higher wages than service industries, but there are some high-wage service industries. Federal government jobs paid an average wage of $70,588 in Northwest Oregon, even more than manufacturing jobs ($65,430). The information industry also had a high average wage of $62,708 per year.

The highest industry wage ($83,807) in the five counties was for manufacturing in Benton County. The lowest wage ($18,135) was in leisure and hospitality in Benton County. Although it can be interesting to look at industry wages, it is generally more useful to analyze wages by occupation since industries typically employ a wide range of occupations and pay tends to be based more on occupation and skill than industry.
Data and Other Industries

Industry employment counts jobs generated by nonfarm businesses whose employees are covered by Oregon’s unemployment insurance (UI) program – the source of data for this article and the reason it is also called covered employment.

Sources of employment not discussed in this article include self-employment, agriculture and fishing. Estimating employment in these industries is difficult since they are exempt from the unemployment insurance program, which provides the employment data for analyzing most industries. According to surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau, Northwest Oregon had 25,605 nonemployer business establishments in 2017. These establishments are usually sole proprietorships. The area’s agricultural employment averaged around 2,650 jobs in 2019 but was above this level at the end of the year when seasonal workers gather holly, Christmas trees, and other holiday crops. In 2019 commercial fishing provided about 300 jobs in Clatsop County, 330 in Lincoln County, and about 135 jobs in Tillamook County on an annual average basis.

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