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Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2018 fourth quarter report reveals local workers average $901 per week

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Work building Prineville's data center and the permanent jobs created inside the data centers once they are built have driven wages up in Crook county considerably.

Crook County was recently reported as having one of the top average weekly wages in Oregon.

In addition, the community is bucking a Central Oregon-wide job growth slowdown.

And though several factors are driving these trends, the continued data center growth in Prineville is pegged as the main catalyst for the economic prosperity.

A 2018 fourth quarter report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that Crook County workers are earning an average of $901 per week. Only seven counties in Oregon – Benton, Clackamas, Deschutes, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah and Washington – have higher average wages, with Washington County leading the state at $1,312 per week. Crook County trails Deschutes County by just $15 per week.

While that is the case, Crook County wages are below the state average of $1,052 per week as well as the national average of $1,144 per week.

"All of the 29 counties in Oregon with employment below 75,000 had average weekly wages lower than the national average," the report added. "Benton County had the highest wage ($1,075), followed by Morrow County ($1,065). Wheeler County had the lowest weekly wage in the state, averaging $609 in the fourth quarter of 2018."

Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department's regional economist for Central Oregon, has no doubt that the Facebook and Apple data center expansions have pushed local wages into the top eight in Oregon.

"The data centers are exclusively why the average wage is higher in Crook County than pretty much every other rural county," he remarked, adding that Morrow County is the outlier.

However, Crook County's unique job growth is not as simple to explain away. While Deschutes County is seeing the slowest job growth since 2012 and Jefferson County is likewise see slower job growth, Crook County's job growth has actually increased.

"The narrative in Central Oregon for the job market has been shifting pretty dramatically in 2019," Runberg said. "But then all of the sudden, Crook County has seen an acceleration of job growth. They are in a completely different situation than either Deschutes or Jefferson County."

The county has experience 3 percent year over year growth, an equivalent of 180 jobs. Runberg said that may not seem like a lot, but he stresses that it is for a community the size of Crook County.

Data centers are once again at the heart of the increase, with jobs not only increasing in the information sector but the professional and business services sector.

"The vast majority of that (professional and business service jobs) I believe are contractors connected with the data centers," Runberg said. "These are businesses that are doing work up at the data centers in some way."

Though data center expansion is a major factor in the job growth, it isn't the only one. Runberg said that manufacturing has seen a bit of growth in 2019 as well. That growth is particularly noteworthy given that the closure of Woodgrain Millwork and other changes in the industry had kept manufacturing job numbers down in recent years.

"You combine those three (industry) gains, and that we have seen no real notable or significant job losses in any industry, and it has been a pretty good year for Crook County," Runberg concluded.

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