Amid an economic downturn, there has been one sector in Central Oregon that has risen to the top and seen an increase in the employment market.
"Here in Central Oregon, the construction sector has largely avoided the employment losses seen by other industries through the COVID shock," commented Regional Economist for the Oregon Employment Department Damon Runberg. "Crook County's construction sector is likely up by 2-3% over the past year, and Deschutes County's construction sector is largely unchanged from 2019."
In the bigger picture, Oregon shows a different story with construction employment down 4.6% over the past year (-5,000 jobs). However, most of those losses are concentrated in the commercial sector.
"There have actually been notable gains of 3.6% in the residential building sector due to increased demand for housing fueled by low interest rates and demographics," added Runberg. "I expect to see strong employment gains in the construction sector in 2021 with Deschutes County's new residential building permits up nearly 19% in 2020 over levels in 2019."
Local construction businesses have also seen this trend, with commercial building down from years past—especially during COVID.
Wes York of York Painting has a painting business in Crook County, which he began in 2008. He has seen a huge increase in his business during the past year—which he attributes to the need for housing.
"I guess it would be the demand for housing, because it is extremely busy," York emphasized. "Actually, it seems like when COVID started, it got busier. We have had probably the best year we ever had last year."
He added that it was in all areas of his business, including jobs in existing and new structures. They paint new and remodeled homes primarily in Crook County.
"Everybody I know has got so much work they are trying to give me their work. I am constantly telling people no and giving them other painter's phone numbers," York concluded.
"With construction, you have to remember there are sort of two sides to it, and the two sides have very different trends because of COVID shock," said Runberg. "You have commercial construction, which has generally taken a hit because of COVID."
He went on to say that with residential building construction, the trend has been positive and one of the few industries that has seen any sizeable or significant growth over the past year. Runberg added that in Central Oregon, residential building is the bulk—or meat and potatoes of the local building construction sector of the industry. In larger urban areas, the commercial construction are larger employers and have taken a bigger hit because of COVID.
"For instance, here in Oregon, over the past year—comparing December 2020 to December 2019, residential building construction employment is up 3.6%, whereas the total non-farm employment and the economy as a whole in Oregon employment remains down over 9.1%. A huge difference between the broad trend we are seeing in employment and what is happening in residential building construction."
Chad Howard Construction has been in business for 14 years in Crook County. Howard commented that he has seen an increase in new residential construction during the past year.
"We have seen an increase in it," Howard emphasized. "Through this COVID, a lot of people are finding out that with Zoom meetings, you can keep your job in a different area. We are seeing some people move in that probably wouldn't have moved if COVID hadn't even come up, because now they work from home, and they get to pick their desirable place to live."
He added that he thought this might be a small portion of the construction, but he forecasts an increase in this dynamic. He also worries about top-down politics and how that will affect the construction business in the near future.
Randy Hamon of Hamon Roofing works mostly in re-roofing on existing homes, although they have added more new construction jobs in the past three years. Although the uptick in the construction has been evident in Central Oregon, it does not affect businesses like Hamon's as significantly.
"I think there is a little bit more new construction, and we have been doing a little bit more each year for the last two or three years it seems like in Crook County," commented Hamon. "Most of our work is residential re-roofing. We do work for four or five general contractors, and they all seem to be busy all the time. It's definitely on the uptick right now."
Serving the East Cascades of Oregon
Oregon Employment Department
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