Job growth most prominent in leisure and hospitality as well as professional and business services

 - Central Oregon unemployment rates

Crook County had once reached an unemployment level that rivaled the highest rates in its lengthy history.

However, since the recession took its toll, the percentage of unemployed residents has reached the other extreme, near a record-low with little chance of going significantly lower in the future.

The December 2017 employment statistics for Crook County were released late last month and revealed that the seasonally adjusted rate landed at 6.2 percent, a slight decrease from November's 6.3 percent rate.

"Each community, each local economy has a different natural rate of unemployment," said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon's regional economist for the State of Oregon's Employment Department. "Because of industry structure, seasonality, etcetera, some economies just naturally have a higher rate."

As an example, Runberg notes that all three Central Oregon counties are near record lows for unemployment rate, despite the fact that Deschutes County's rate is 4.1 percent for December and Jefferson County's is at 5.3 percent.

"I don't think we are going to see it get any better than this," he said. "It would be very unlikely to see any significant improvement at this point."

The monthly report also includes the number of jobs gained or lost in Crook County by sector, month to month and year over year. According to the data, the area shed 70 jobs in December, which is fewer than normal for the time of year, but there are around 70 more jobs in the community than a year ago.

The data also revealed that job growth in Crook County was slowed by job losses in state and federal government. The area shed 30 state jobs from last year and 20 federal jobs. This contrasted an approximately 150-job gain in the private sector with much of that growth in the professional and business services sector and in leisure and hospitality.

"It is definitely doing well," Runberg said of leisure and hospitality. "It has been a pretty constant presence for the last six months. It has shown some real momentum."

While that particular job sector is often tourism driven, Runberg said other types of economic activity could be driving the job growth, including business travel and data center construction workers utilizing local restaurants and motels.

One sector that didn't show as much year-over-year growth despite gains in recent months is construction and manufacturing. Runberg said he expected to see higher numbers since the industry trended higher in job numbers from 2016 to 2017.

In addition, the impact of Woodgrain Millwork's closure on manufacturing job numbers seems to have passed.

"I think it will be interesting going into 2018," he said. "Do we start to see some rebound there or did we lose some of that industry for good?"

Amidst all of the recession years and the growth that has followed, Runberg was recently struck by an interesting and puzzling phenomenon. He explained that unemployment figures are determined by the number of employed residents living in a given community, whereas job numbers are counted according to the community where the job is available.

"We have seen an interesting trend in the last 15 years where there is a 7 percent increase in the number of employed workers in Crook County, but we have seen an 8 percent reduction in the number of jobs in local businesses."

Runberg said that at first the two simultaneous trends didn't make sense. How could more people have jobs, but the community have fewer jobs available?

"The answer is we have seen a lot more commuting," he said.

The next Oregon Employment Department release for county unemployment data, which will feature January 2018 information, will be Tuesday, March 13.

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