After sputtering during the depths of the global recession at the start of the decade, the area job market is showing strong signs of recovery.

During the years in which the Woodburn area job market was hardest hit by the economic downturn, 2009 and 2010, the unemployment rate climbed to over 11 percent. According to data from the Oregon Employment Department, the highest monthly rates locally were in January, February and March of 2010, when unemployment peaked at 12.3.

The area’s job market has experienced a slow but steady recovery since then. The annual rate averaged 10.4 percent in 2011, 9.7 in 2012 and 8.4 last year.

What’s more, the first four months of 2014 are giving every indication of continuing the trend. The seasonally adjusted rate for April 2014, 7.2 percent, was nearly 1.5 percentage points better than April’s rate the year before (8.6).

Woodburn Economic Development Director Jim Hendryx said neither the state nor his office racks job numbers at the city level, but he knows the local job market is looking up, from both the data that does exist and the increased interest businesses have shown in expanding in or moving to the area.

“A lot of it is anecdotal,” he said. “But we have seen the increase in activity; new businesses looking at Woodburn, or new businesses locating in and opening in Woodburn.”

He said a significant portion of the growth and predicted growth has been in the Interstate 5 corridor, largely propelled by the Woodburn Interchange Project, which is currently under construction by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest with the interchange project under way,” Hendryx said.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, the state added a total of 15,000 jobs in March and April, the highest two-month increase since December 2005 — nearly a decade ago. The strong job gains were driven by robust private-sector growth in such industries as construction, professional and business services, health care and leisure and hospitality.

Construction has led the way, with double-digit growth over the past year, particularly in its fastest-growing subcategory: building finishing contractors, which includes painters, drywallers and flooring specialists.

Counterintuitive though it may be, Hendryx said business expansion is generally a far larger driver of job growth than new businesses.

“The biggest job creator is expansion of existing businesses,” he said. “People think it’s new businesses, but really it’s the existing businesses adding one or two jobs.”

Despite the strides the area job market has made in recent years, Marion County’s April 2014 unemployment rate was still higher than the average statewide (6.9) and nationwide (6.3). Several counties adjacent to Marion recorded lower rates as well, including Clackamas (6.3), Polk (6.5) and Yamhill (6.8), though the county’s neighbor to the south — Linn — was much higher, at 8.6.

And though the gap is not as wide as it once was, Marion County’s unemployment rate is still a far cry from its pre-recession levels, including its decade low of 5.4 in 2007. Hendryx admitted that, though there has been significant improvement, he and other city and business leaders feel there is more work to be done.

“We’d like to see more job opportunities locally for our residents,” he said. “Eighty percent of the people who live in Woodburn are employed outside the community, and 80 percent of the people who work in the city come from outside. We would like see that balanced out more.”

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