SALEM - With a growing population and expanding economy, the state of Oregon enjoyed a construction boom over the past decade, and Umatilla and Morrow counties were a big part of it.

This region saw the highest overall percentage of growth in construction employment anywhere in the state between 1988 and 1998, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

The large public construction projects at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution at Umatilla and the incinerator complex for the Umatilla Chemical Depot near Hermiston accounted for the majority of construction jobs in northeast Oregon, said regional economist Dallas Fridley.

A total of 992 new construction jobs were created in Umatilla and Morrow counties between 1988 and 1998 for an increase of 174.6 percent, the employment department reported.

Fridley said construction jobs in the region peaked in August 1999 with about 2,000 total jobs. Those numbers, however, have already started to decline.

"Employment will start coming down," Fridley said. "It's not sustainable for the long term."

Fridley said construction employment in this region will be lower in 2000 than in 1999.

While construction of the $604 million incinerator complex at the Umatilla Chemical Depot is ongoing and has employed as many as 1,000 workers at one time, construction of TRCI is complete.

There are about 1,600 total construction-related jobs in the two-county region at this time, Fridley said. Construction has accounted for about 5 percent of total employment in this area over the past decade.

Across the state, more than 40,000 new construction-related jobs were created between 1988 to 1998. Construction employment increased by 95 percent during this time period, easily making it the fastest growing job-producing industry in Oregon. The services industry was a distant second, with a 10-year employment growth of 51 percent.

Oregon Employment Department statistics indicate that construction jobs are varied and pay well. Heavy equipment operators and carpenters account for the largest cross-section of construction workers.

The downside to the industry is that construction jobs tend to be seasonal, producing a higher-than-average unemployment rate.

Fridley called the construction industry "volatile" in terms of its employment, with rapid periods of growth followed by rapid periods of decline.

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