Northwest Oregon’s Economy in 2018 – The Year in Review

by Erik Knoder

March 19, 2019

The Northwest Oregon economy continued to grow in 2018. The year started off with strong employment growth each month. Employment in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties combined in January 2018 was up about 2,150 jobs over January 2017. The region continued to add jobs until June, but at an ever slower pace. In July, the region (mainly in Benton County) dropped more than 4,300 jobs as public schools and colleges shed teachers and student workers over the summer break. A drop in employment in July is normal, but this was a larger drop than in recent years. Weaker job growth continued in the fall. By December the employment gains were down to 920 jobs over the previous December.
Altogether 1,370 jobs were added on an annual average basis. This is a growth rate of 1.4 percent for 2018 versus a rate of 2.9 percent in 2017. Some good news is that the employment gains were principally in the private sector. Private businesses added about 2,090 jobs while government lost 760 jobs. The real story, however, is not quite as dramatic; about 1,000 homecare workers were simply reclassified from state government to the private sector. The result is that the private sector did create roughly 1,100 jobs and local governments added about 220 jobs.  
Aside from the reclassified homecare workers, the largest gain came in the leisure and hospitality sector. It added 450 jobs. Most of the counties have a seasonal economy with significant leisure and hospitality employment. The manufacturing sector added 350 jobs thanks to large gains in Benton and Tillamook counties. Trade, transportation, and utilities grew by 250 jobs (+1.7%), which is a decent, but not exceptional growth rate for the region’s second-largest industry. The mining, logging, and construction sector (which is mostly construction) added 240 jobs (+5.0%). It was a welcome rebound for an industry that lost many jobs in the Great Recession.

The industries with the most change in 2018 varied by county. The following ignores the reclassified home care works in the education and health services sector.:

  • Benton County accounted for more (+360) of the jobs added than any other county – but just barely. It actually had the slowest rate (+0.8%) of employment growth of the Northwest Oregon counties. The biggest job gains came in manufacturing (+190); mining, logging, and construction (+120); and local government education, which includes Oregon State University (+60). The county shed 180 jobs in professional and business services.
  • Clatsop County added 320 jobs in 2018. It lost 100 jobs in professional and business services, but offset those losses by adding jobs in leisure and hospitality (+220) and trade, transportation, and utilities (+180). Clatsop County’s nonfarm employment grew by a respectable 1.7 percent in 2018.
  • Columbia County had the second-highest percentage growth rate in the region in 2018, expanding its payroll employment by 1.95 percent – just getting edged out by Tillamook County. Columbia County added 220 jobs. The county created 60 new jobs in professional and business services, 40 in local government education, and another 40 in private education and health services.
  • Lincoln County added 290 jobs in 2018. The county saw 140 more jobs in leisure and hospitality; 80 more in manufacturing; and 50 more in mining, logging, and construction. The county’s nonfarm employment grew 1.6 percent in 2018. The growth was nearly enough to bring Lincoln County’s employment to up to its pre-recession level; it remained just 30 jobs below the 2008 level on an annual average basis.
  • Tillamook County had a robust gain of 180 payroll and the highest growth rate (+1.98%) of the five counties in Northwest Oregon. Manufacturing added 110 jobs and leisure and hospitality was up 50 jobs. Tillamook County has added 430 manufacturing jobs since the depths of the Great Recession, and the industry’s employment is at its highest level since at least 2001.
Unemployment in the Region

With average annual payroll employment higher for the region in 2018, it is no surprise that the unemployment rate fell.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Northwest Oregon averaged 3.9 percent in 2018, down from 4.1 percent in 2017. Many economists would probably consider 3.9 percent unemployment to be below a stable, long-run, full-employment level, and the rate has been creeping up since August 2018. Also, the regional average rate does conceal differences between the five counties.

The unemployment rate is clearly a story of geography. Benton County, usual home of the lowest unemployment rate in the state, saw its already-low rate of 3.3 percent in 2017 fall to 3.1 percent in 2018. The remaining counties had seasonally adjusted unemployment rates between 4.0 percent and 4.9 percent. Clatsop County’s average rate was 4.0 percent in 2018 and Tillamook County’s rate was 4.3 percent, essentially identical to each other and the statewide unemployment rate. Lincoln County, in the center of the coast, had a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.7 percent in 2018. Columbia County still has the highest unemployment rate in the region, despite being part of the Portland metro area. The average rate in 2018 was 4.9 percent, down from 5.2 percent in 2017. All five counties now have unemployment rates that are less than their long-term averages.

Major 2018 employment stories in Northwest Oregon included:
  • Benton County:
    • Nectar Creek, a mead producer, moved from Corvallis to a larger production facility in Philomath that features a taproom. It added about 12 workers. Philomath Express, 1/29/2018
    • Murphy's Restaurant & Lounge reopened in Corvallis. It employs 22 people. Albany Democrat-Herald, 6/11/2018
    • Kmart in Corvallis will close. Associated Press, 12/28/2018
  • Clatsop County:
    • Agile Design plans to break ground next year on a data center at the North Coast Business Park in Warrenton. It is expected to create 76 jobs. The Daily Astorian, 10/25/2018
    • Walmart will open in Warrenton. It will employ more than 250 people. The Daily Astorian, 6/12/2018
    • Pacific Seafood, a seafood-processing plant in Warrenton that was destroyed by a fire in 2013, opened a new facility. It will employ about 140 full-time and 100 seasonal workers. The Daily Astorian, 8/14/2018 
  • Columbia County:
    • Composites Universal Group, a manufacturer of experimental aircraft components, expanded production into a new building at the Port of Columbia County's Multnomah Industrial Park in Warren. It employs about 65 people and plans to add 20 more over the next two years. Columbia County Spotlight, 11/2/2018
    • Portland Community College plans to open an advanced manufacturing training center at the Scappoose Industrial Airpark. Construction will begin next year and it will open in the fall of 2020.  Columbia County Spotlight, 10/26/2018
    • Armstrong World Industries Inc., an acoustical ceiling tile manufacturer in St. Helens, will close at the end of May. It employs 136 people. The Oregonian, 3/26/2018
  • Lincoln County:
    • Sunset Senior Living Center LLC, an adult foster care home, opened in Depoe Bay. Newport News Times, 11/20/2018
    • Ace Hardware will open at Pacific Plaza in Newport. News-Times, 7/31/2018 
    • Domino's Pizza opened in Newport. It employs 27 people. News-Times, 2/20/2018
  • Tillamook County:
    • Grocery Outlet plans to open a store in Tillamook. Headlight-Herald, 10/24/2018
    • Sammy's Place, a nonprofit, plans to build a community living, working, and respite development for people with disabilities in NehalemThe North Coast Citizen, 9/29/2018  
    • The new Tillamook Creamery Visitors Center will open in Tillamook. The 42,800-square-foot building will feature a first floor food hall with a coffee and yogurt bar. The second-floor viewing deck will allow visitors to witness the cheese production process. Portland Monthly Magazine, 6/13/2018


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