Though Eastern Oregon saw hundreds of vacancies in construction, manufacturing, and natural resource jobs in 2018, a local economist says it’s not because people are quitting their jobs, but rather because there’s more growth happening in the area than before.

Chris Rich, an economist with Oregon Employment Department, published a report on Monday entitled “Help Wanted in Eastern Oregon,” detailing the number of job vacancies in eight eastern Oregon counties in 2018. After mailing surveys to 1,300 employers on the east side of the state, OED heard back from about 520 employers. Rich reported that most industries are seeing fewer vacancies, and there has been a 29 percent drop in total job vacancies in the past year.

The report stated that five specific occupations accounted for about one-third of all vacancies in 2018: production and shipping, packaging and filling machine operators, and truck drivers. Rich noted that there are fewer vacancies in such as health care occupations, community and social service jobs. But he said there have been more vacancies in food service and trade jobs, like construction. Some industries reported more vacancies, such as finance, construction, leisure and hospitality, natural resources and mining. Rich said that’s likely due to increased activity in those industries.

“These industries are recovering and expanding,” he said. “They’re starting to pick up in the area, especially in construction.”

Similarly, he said, in leisure and hospitality, they’re starting to see more businesses such as restaurants opening in the area.

“I think for those specific industries, a large portion is due to increased economic activity,” he said.

Rich also noted that because the surveys asked employers to give the number of openings they have at that point in time, that may create some discrepancies in annual data.

“We could catch a business right before or right after they have a vacancy,” he said. “It creates some choppiness from year to year.”

On Tuesday, OED also released statewide employment numbers for January 2019, and will release city and county breakdowns next Tuesday. Oregon’s employment numbers increased, with the state seeing a jump of 11,000 jobs in nonfarm payroll employment, after a loss of about 1,700 jobs in December 2018. From December 2017 to December 2018, the state’s overall numbers increased by 1.6 percent, or about 29,500 nonfarm jobs.

Umatilla County saw a slight drop in overall nonfarm employment, going from 28,260 jobs in December 2017 to 28,150 in December 2018, or a drop of about 0.4 percent. Morrow County saw a larger overall jump, going from 4,750 nonfarm employees in December 2017 to 5,090 in December 2018, a jump of about 7.2 percent.

Nonfarm payroll employment refers to all jobs in goods, construction and manufacturing companies. It doesn’t include agricultural workers, private household employees or nonprofit employees. Oregon Employment Department economist Dallas Fridley said that distinction is made by the way different industries’ unemployment insurance laws are administered. Fridley said many farm jobs are categorized as “self employed,” and fewer agricultural workers are subject to unemployment insurance laws than those from other industries.

Statewide, transportation, warehousing and utilities saw the fastest growth, adding 3,800 new jobs, or a growth of 5.9 percent. Construction jobs did not see as fast of growth as they’d seen in past years, adding 4,100 jobs, or an increase of 4 percent. Manufacturing jobs also grew by 3.4 percent, or about 6,600 jobs. Retail jobs were down, decreasing by 0.8 percent, or 1,800 jobs. According to a press release from OED, that was the only industry to cut jobs substantially in the past 12 months.

Morrow County’s job growth outpaced the state average, especially in construction jobs, where it saw an 87 percent increase in those jobs over 2018, from 80 construction jobs to 150. The state had a 4.5 percent increase in construction jobs. For Umatilla County, mining, logging and construction were all counted together and increased by 5 percent.

Ryan Neal, director of the Port of Morrow, said most of the growth is driven by development at port sites.

“You’ve got all these data centers bringing in hundreds of construction jobs,” he said. “We have continuous site development, another site just broke ground in city limits.”

He added that there aren’t many properties available to lease, because almost everything is already leased out. Neal said there will be even more construction jobs in the area soon, when the Wheatridge energy project breaks ground. Neal said work on that site is projected to create about 400 construction jobs.

Umatilla County saw small decreases in most areas of employment, including a 19.7 percent drop in state government jobs. Morrow County saw a 50 percent decrease in state government jobs, going from 140 to 70. Oregon saw a 3.1 percent overall increase in state jobs. Umatilla County’s largest increase was in education and health services jobs, with an 11 percent increase. Statewide, those jobs saw a 2.3 percent increase, and in Morrow County, education and health service jobs increased by 31.6 percent.

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