Rural counties see decrease in unemployment

Rural Oregon Scores Victories, But More Work To Do

Via Oregon Prosperity Project

The economic recovery was slow to arrive in rural Oregon, and many of the state’s less populated counties still have unemployment rates well above the statewide rate of 3.7%. But signs of improvement are as clear as mountains on the horizon on a sunny day. The strongejob gains in June were in Central and Southern Oregon, not in the Portland Metro Area. Gilliam County recorded the biggest year-over-year decrease in the unemployment rate in the state. And most counties in the state – including rural ones – are reporting record-low unemployment rates.

This progress is welcome and overdue. Can it last? Speakers at last week’s Oregon Coast Economic Summit reviewed accomplishments in the 2017 Legislative Session that could help rural Oregon continue to gain ground economically. Here are some of the bills and projects approved by the 2017 Legislature that speakers cited:

The Transportation Bill includes projects in every part of the state, including one mentioned by several Summit panelists: a rail transload facility that will make it easier for Eastern Oregon farmers and agri-businesses to ship their crops.

The new Office of Outdoor Recreation will become another resource for developing and promoting tourism outside the state’s urban areas.

The Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose received funding that will help accelerate its development, which will pay dividends not only in Columbia County but also around the state.
A bill cosponsored by Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton) made it easier to mine in certain “frontier” counties by removing the requirement for county permit applications and taking other steps to speed the permitting and regulatory process. For more detail on the bill, SB 644, click here.

And there also was what didn’t happen. The Legislature did not enact any significant new environmental laws negatively affecting rural areas.
Those actions are not enough to put rural Oregon at economic parity with urban counties. Many challenges remain, including: an aging and shrinking workforce, lack of workforce housing, additional transportation needs and statewide regulations that don’t match the realities of rural life.

In fact, one of the encouraging notes from the Economic Summit was the number of speakers who acknowledged the need to consider the differences in urban and rural community values when formulating policies.

“Rural economies are much more fragile than urban economies,” said Representative Caddy McKeown (D-Coos-Bay). “The loss of one employer has a much bigger impact.” The inverse also is true. The addition of one employer that would be overshadowed by Intel in Hillsboro or Nike in Beaverton could be a game-changer in Coos Bay or Ontario.

But, at the least, the scoreboard looks better in rural Oregon today than it has in a long time.

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