Primary Employers Reflect the Economic Role of Place

by Henry Fields

February 7, 2019

Despite a reputation as a college town, Lane County’s economy is diverse. Our area has strong employment bases in health care, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality, among others.

Still, it’s probably not surprising that the largest industries vary depending on which area of Lane County you’re looking at.

To examine where industries cluster, I used geocoded data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages to create the map below, which shows the largest private-sector industry in each part of Lane County in 2017.
Top Private Industries by Area of Lane County

Areas that are magnets for employment and services have private sectors that reflect these roles. These places draw in residents from the smaller surrounding areas looking for shopping, medical care, or other services where cities are likely to have more choice available.

The areas anchored by three of the four largest cities in Lane County (Eugene, Springfield, and Florence) have health care and social assistance as their top private employment sector. For the rest of the top five (#3 Cottage Grove and #5 Junction City), the largest private sector is retail.

By contrast, most of the smaller cities near the Eugene and Springfield urban area have manufacturing as their largest private sector.

Coburg and Creswell, just off of I-5 north and south of town, have many of the infrastructure advantages of the city and easy access to high-value land and a high-skill workforce. Similarly, the semi-rural areas surrounding Veneta, west of Eugene, and Pleasant Hill, south of Springfield, build on historical strengths in the manufacturing industry, often in wood products, but are still within commuting distance for the Eugene-Springfield labor force.

Three areas in Eastern Lane County have concentrated employment in sectors more commonly seen in rural areas.

Northeast of Springfield, employment and population clusters on the highways running along the Mohawk and McKenzie Rivers. The largest sector of private employment is construction, with contractors that can easily serve the nearby cities or unincorporated areas being a key source of private wages.

Along Highway 58 the Middle Fork of the Willamette widens into the valley, blending forest and agricultural land. In this area, encompassing Lowell, Dexter, and Fall Creek, a significant number of people work in the sector that includes agriculture and logging.

Continuing southeast leads into the Willamette National Forest and the area including Oakridge and Westfir, where accommodation and food services employs the largest number of private workers. In combination, retail, accommodation, and food service makes up more than half of local private employment, which indicates a role as a regional service hub and a stop for travelers between Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley.

I didn’t include public employment in these figures because a local school district or other government entity can often overwhelm private employment numbers. Still, keep in mind that government is almost always a large portion of employment, especially in rural areas.

Lane County’s economy is diverse, and it can play to a number of regional strengths. Those strengths can differ across the county, but often come together to benefit the region as a whole.

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