South Douglas County: Tall Trees and Timber

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

October 20, 2017

Tall trees, sheer canyon walls, and high mountain passes help define the remote area of South Douglas County. Small towns cluster along roadsides, especially Interstate 5 –vibrant rural Oregon communities affording both residents and visitors alike a sample of local fare. Whether it is a summer festival with parades and antique car shows or local high school sports with rivalries going back generations, South Douglas County’s community life is a snapshot of tradition melding with new, innovative undertakings. Halfway between southern California’s manufacturing and agricultural centers and the distribution hubs of Portland and Seattle, South Douglas County businesses are well positioned to engage in and facilitate entry of goods and services into the stream of West Coast commerce.
The South Douglas County Area, defined as Douglas County Census Tracts 1600, 1800, 1900, 2000, and 2100, covers 1,582 square miles, 31 percent of Douglas County. Although the area is home to nearly 26,000 people, one out of four Douglas County residents, density varies between census tracts. The communities of Winston and Dillard (Census Tract 1600) hug the nearby urban center of Roseburg. This tract is home to 7,600 residents crowded into nearly 32 square miles (about 240 people/square mile). In contrast, southern-most Census Tract 2100 boasts 4,200 residents across 1,300 square miles (about three people/square mile).

Economically, South Douglas County continues its long tradition of reliance on natural resources. In contrast to the county as a whole whose largest employing industry is trade, transportation, and utilities, South Douglas County’s economy focuses on manufacturing. Nearly one out of three jobs in the area is in manufacturing – 98 percent of which are wood product manufacturing. Truly, it is a unique part of Douglas County.

Area Demographics – Unexpected Diversity Between Census Tracts

It is common in rugged, rural areas for people to cluster around a few incorporated communities. Throughout Douglas County, 46 percent of residents live in incorporated towns, and similarly, so do nearly 50 percent of South Douglas County area residents. However, the largest population center is the joint, residential area of incorporated Myrtle Creek (population 3,490) and neighboring unincorporated Tri-City (population 3,645). This hub, adjacent to Interstate 5, is approximately halfway between the Oregon metropolitan cities of Eugene and Medford. An industrial park south of Tri-City, having easy access to the Interstate, is ready for future commercial growth.  

It is often said that demographics are destiny. Between 1990 and 2016, Oregon’s population increased 43 percent. Rapid growth, in turn, generates increased demand for goods and services. In contrast, Douglas County’s population, although growing steadily, increased only 17 percent. South Douglas County’s communities  experienced varied demographic shifts – Canyonville and Winston saw rapid growth (58% and 43%, respectively) compared with nearby Riddle, just off Interstate 5 (4% growth). Overall, population in county unincorporated areas grew 30 percent during this 10-year period.

Rural Oregon counties typically have older populations – the same is true across the nation. Rural South Douglas County’s demographics reflect that of the overall county. Of the area’s 25,926 residents, 20 percent are under age 18, and school-related activities are paramount in importance. Working-age residents (ages 18-64) account for 58 percent of the population (15,066); employment, housing, and providing for families tend to dominate interests. Retirement-age individuals account for almost one out of five area residents (5,688). Statewide, the under-18 group accounts for 22 percent of the population; working-age, 63 percent; and retirement-age, 15 percent. These three broad age groupings provide a general overview of the population and help characterize basic categories of likely demand for goods and services. However, a more detailed examination of the population, especially between census tracts, offers a varied perspective, especially for youth when entry-level jobs and associated educational activities are the norm.
Surprisingly, there is noticeable variation between census tracts. The tracts with younger populations are those closest to Roseburg, the county’s largest city located immediately north of the area.
Winston-Dillard (population 7,618) and Riddle-Canyonville (5,474) have the largest cohorts of children under the age of five (6.4% and 6.7%, respectively, compared with 5.1% for the county). This predominance also extends to middle school-aged residents. Tri-City and Days Creek-Glendale have the least representation for under age-15 residents. It is useful to note that 34 percent of Winston-Dillard residents are under age 24; 29 percent of Riddle-Canyonville residents; 28 percent of Tri-City; 26 percent of Myrtle Creek; and nearly 17 percent of Days Creek-Glendale residents are under age 24. The retirement age cohort is most heavily represented in Days Creek-Glendale.

Educational Attainment and its Impacts on Financial Well-Being

In addition to age-related differences in demands for goods and services, educational attainment also influences expectations and opportunities. From a workforce perspective, 66 percent of Oregon’s projected job openings (2014-2024), will require no more than high school completion. To be competitive, 46 percent of jobs will require a minimum of high school completion. However, jobs that may once have relied on basic high school completion are changing as the global economy expands from more urban centers to smaller communities.
Educational attainment varies from one geography to another with notable differences between urban and rural areas. For Oregon’s population ages 25 and older, 10 percent have not completed high school; 24 percent have completed only high school – an achievement often considered a minimum requirement for competitiveness in the job market. Additionally, although 26 percent have attended college, only 8 percent of Oregonians have an associate’s degree. Roughly, one out of three has a bachelor’s degree or more.

Rural southwestern Oregon education completion rates are notably lower. In Douglas County, 11 percent of working age residents (ages 25 and older) have not completed high school, and 32 percent have completed no more than high school. One out of three has attended college, but less than 10 percent have an associate’s degree, and 16 percent have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

In marked contrast, at the lower-end of educational attainment, nearly 14 percent of South Douglas County residents have not completed high school. Thirty-seven percent of residents have completed only high school; 9 percent have an associate’s degree, and 9 percent have a bachelor’s or higher degree. Given that half the population has no more than high school completion, in today’s expanding and ever-changing economy, this level of education is likely to limit opportunities for individuals as well as business and economic development interests. (Note: restricting the perspective to those aged 25 to 64, considered prime working age, shows comparable percentages.)

Over the years, there have been numerous studies and reports regarding the impact of education on financial well-being. U.S. Census Bureau’s summary statistics indicate a strong correlation between educational attainment and percent of people in poverty. As mentioned above, South Douglas County residents have a lower high school completion rate than overall county or statewide residents. This discrepancy is clear when comparing poverty rates across age groups and regions.

In 2014, the overall, national poverty rate for people aged 25 and older was 12 percent. Those without a high school diploma had a poverty rate of 29 percent; those with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a poverty rate of 5 percent. Oregon’s 2015 poverty rate was 16.5 percent; Douglas County’s poverty rate was 19.3 percent; and South Douglas County’s was 23.3 percent. For those with less than high school completion, the poverty rates were much higher: Oregon, 27 percent; Douglas County, 25 percent; and South Douglas County, 28 percent.

Douglas County typically ranks among Oregon’s top 10 counties for high poverty rates. The Oregon Department of Human Services, Office of Forecasting, Research, and Analysis has defined the Winston-Dillard Census Tract and the Myrtle Creek, Tri-City, and Riddle-Canyonville Census Tracts “high poverty hotspots.”

The South Douglas County Industry Mix and Wages

Southwestern Oregon, long considered a natural resource-reliant region, has historically depended on timber, fishing, and tourism for its economic base. This focus influences wages. Overall, the South Douglas County average annual wage is $39,845; this is comparable to the county’s average ($37,954). However, it is roughly four-fifths of the state’s average wage ($48,322). To put this into perspective, it is useful to compare the per capita personal incomes (PCPI) of these regions – the PCPI is a statistic often used to gauge an area’s economic well-being or standard of living. The combined per capita personal income of the five census tracts making up South Douglas County is $19,966. Douglas County’s is $22,591; and Oregon’s is $27,684 (based on data from the American Community Survey 2011-2015). An effect of this difference is that South Douglas County has less economic capacity to invest in community development than Douglas County or the state.
An examination of both private and public sectors’ employment on an industry basis shows some differences when compared with Douglas County as well as with the state. Trade, transportation, and utilities is the largest employing sector in both Oregon and Douglas County (average wages $41,346 and $32,593, respectively). Retail trade accounts for 64 percent of Douglas County’s trade-related sector (average wage $25,337) and 58 percent of Oregon’s largest sector (average wage $29,095). South Douglas County’s largest employing sector is manufacturing (average wage $49,572), which accounts for 31 percent of the area’s employment. Nearly all manufacturing employees work in wood product manufacturing. Other industry sectors also reflect regional infrastructural differences, e.g., the health care and social assistance sector accounts for about 4 percent of South Douglas County’s employment; this sector offers employment to 16 percent of Douglas County workers and 14 percent of workers statewide. 
Occupations and Opportunities

There are wide varieties of occupations found both within and across industries. Some occupations are very specific to a particular industry (e.g., physical therapists find employment in the health care and social assistance arena), while some occupations find opportunities across a broad spectrum of businesses (e.g., accountants). When looking at industry wages, it is important to take the range of occupations into account. An industry such as manufacturing tends to have a large number of skilled workers – more so than accommodation and food services. The professional and business services industry includes a wide range of employment opportunities that varies from urban to rural area. For example, in an urban community there are more accountants, engineers, attorneys, etc. than are employed in a smaller, more rural area. Thus, the types of opportunities and wages for those working in this industry will depend on the size of the community, its commuting distance to more urban centers, and proximity to institutions of higher education – especially important for those in scientific occupations.
South Douglas County’s rugged, timbered geography and community access to transportation networks affect not only the industry mix but also the occupations available for employment. Rural southwestern Oregon has fewer people employed in management, business, science, and arts-related occupations than the state. However, Douglas County as well as the South Douglas County area offers more opportunities to work in natural resources, construction, and related jobs (often seasonal and part-time). Reflecting the area’s focus on manufacturing, opportunities to work in production, transportation, and material moving occupations outweigh those offered in the county or statewide.

Retaining and Attracting Residents, Some Considerations

Regardless of whether an individual is just entering the workforce or is preparing to retire, availability of housing is always a concern. In keeping with the lower wages, the South Douglas County area’s cost of housing is notably less than other parts of the state. Forty-nine percent of the area’s owner-occupied housing units cost less than $150,000. In comparison, Douglas County’s lower-cost housing accounts for 40 percent of units; and Oregon, 22 percent. The age of housing inventory contributes to the cost differences. Two-thirds of area housing predates 1980, as does 60 percent of Douglas County housing, and 55 percent of Oregon’s housing. Aging inventory, location, and condition – especially in areas where winter weather presents additional maintenance concerns – all impose constraints for those wanting to live and work in the South Douglas County area.


As was true in the 1800s when adventurous individuals traveled the West Coast’s north-south roads in search of gold and easily tillable land, the South Douglas County area continues to take advantage of its location. It provides the long-standing nexus that still efficiently connects California markets with those in Portland and Seattle. For communities close to Roseburg, just north of the Winston-Dillard census tract, additional employment and educational opportunities are within easy commuting distance. The southernmost census tracts have access to Grants Pass and more urban Medford to the south for expanded employment and educational possibilities.

The extensive tracts of forestlands influence the industry mix and occupational opportunities – not even the county as a whole has the manufacturing focus as this area. In addition, given recent developments of cross-laminated timber products – nationally led by D.R. Johnson Lumber Company in Riddle, South Douglas County continues to be well positioned to facilitate the expansion and distribution of goods and services into the mainstream of national commerce. Supporting the capacity to economically transport bulky wood products and thus fully engage in the national economy are rail connections provided by the Union Pacific Railroad Company and Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, a member of the vast Genesee and Wyoming Corporation’s family of shortline railroads.

In addition to the forest products-based industry focus, the area offers a variety of outdoor and tourist-related opportunities. Hiking, camping, or panning for gold in the mountain streams attract visitors. Additionally, the area boasts such nationally advertised attractions as Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, one of Oregon’s tourist destinations; and Winston’s Wildlife Safari, an internationally recognized non-profit wildlife park dedicated to conservation, education and research of native and exotic wildlife. Truly, South Douglas County is a diverse and unique part of southwestern Oregon.


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