Jackson County Construction Employment Rebuilding from Great Recession

by Guy Tauer

October 31, 2017

Employment in Jackson County’s construction industry recently boasted the fastest over-the-year growth among published industry sectors, up by 9.1 percent from September 2016 to September 2017. This was substantially faster over-the-year growth than the all-industry average of 1.3 percent. Looking at other recent indicators also points to a recent uptick in the construction sector. The construction industry in Jackson County was the third largest contributor to the 2.9 percent increase in Gross Domestic Product growth in 2016, accounting for 0.6 percentage point of the total increase.
Data from the Oregon Employment Department’s Job Vacancy Survey in 2016 also points to strong demand for construction workers. The construction industry had the second-highest number of vacancies in the Rogue Valley in 2016, just behind the health care and social assistance industry, or about 17 percent of all vacancies by industry. Looking at the occupational side, the construction and extraction occupational group had the highest number of total vacancies or about one out of six total vacancies in the Rogue Valley.

During the housing-boom fed run-up to the Great Recession, the area’s construction industry was growing rapidly. Jackson County outpaced the statewide growth rate in employment growth in four out of five years leading up the housing crash and the Great Recession.

Following the boom, the bust hit Jackson County’s construction industry harder than the statewide trend, with sharper losses or less growth locally than Oregon statewide from 2007 to 2012. Since then, the local construction sector has been growing steadily with the pace of growth accelerating in 2016 and 2017.
During the housing bust and Great Recession, total construction payroll employment fell by about one-half in Jackson County from 2006 to 2010. Analyzing the most recent figures through September 2017 shows that Jackson County has added back about one-half of those job losses incurred during and just after the Great Recession, or regaining about 1,600 of the 3,180 jobs lost during the downturn.

Looking at more detailed data from employer payroll tax records, the components that comprise the broader construction industry show modest gains in both specialty trade contractors and construction of buildings. There has been less recovery in the heavy and civil engineering construction industry – a smaller portion of the total construction industry.
While there have been some positives, the industry is not without lingering challenges and headwinds. A dearth of qualified and skilled workers is causing some job openings to be difficult to fill, according to our job vacancy surveys. One local source of training for construction industry workers no longer offers this program. According the Rogue Community College website, “Rogue Community College has closed the Construction Technology Program. There are currently no plans to restart the program.” Many workers who left the industry during the previous recession have migrated to other, less cyclical industries. Residential building permit numbers continue to hover at low levels, despite rising somewhat from the recession low-point. There were just 486 residential unit building permits issued in Jackson County year-to-date through September 2017, down slightly from the same period in 2016 when 537 residential unit permits were issued. The recent strength in job growth trends in Jackson County is good news for those in this industry, but it’s unlikely that construction employment will reach pre-recession totals in Jackson County any time soon.

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