Umatilla County again led the pace in employment growth during July while employment in northeast Oregon continued growing slowly. The number of people working in the region totaled 68,914, up 1,337 or 1.98 percent from July 2003.

Four of the six counties experienced employment gains from July 2003, according to monthly reports from the Oregon Employment Department.

Umatilla County

Employment in Umatilla County was up 1,144 people in July, increasing to 37,786 from 36,642 a year ago. The percentage gain was 3.12 percent.

"Umatilla County posted a gain of 400 nonfarm payroll jobs over the year ending this July," said Dallas Fridley, Employment Department regional economist in Hood River. "Most of that gain was attributed to the private-industry side (up 370) while government managed a gain of 30."

Private-industry gains over the past year weren't that hard to spot, Fridley said, because they concentrated in the professional and business services group (up 310), and in manufacturing (up 110).

"Government employment benefited from an over-the-year gain of 70 jobs in the federal government group, while state government softened the outlook with a loss of 30," Fridley added.

Morrow County

Gains in employment also were recorded for Morrow County in July. The Employment Department reported 4,625 people working there this year, up 133 from the 4,492 employed there a year ago.

However, the county's unemployment rate was 11.4 percent in July, the state's highest, according to Fridley. A year ago the rate was 11.0 percent.

Over the year, Morrow County added 150 nonfarm payroll jobs. Total private industry employment was up 170 jobs during the same period, while public sector employment was down 20.

"Manufacturing was the primary job creator over the year, adding 90 jobs, followed by the trade, transportation and utilities group (up 40), and the professional and business services group (up 40)," Fridley said.

In the government sector, state employment was up 10 jobs over the year, while local government employment was down 20 and federal employment down 10.

Baker County

Employment in Baker County totaled 7,184 in July, up 177 (2.53 percent) from the 7,007 working there a year ago.

Earlier this year, job growth from the year before largely was a function of some manufacturing expansion and the uptrend in leisure and hospitality activity, but not much else, said Jason Yohannan of La Grande, Employment Department regional economist.

"Nowadays, year-over-year industry employment comparisons suggest a somewhat broader recovery in Baker County," he said.

Baker County had an estimated jobless rate of 6.2 percent in July.

"This is Baker County's lowest unemployment rate since October 2000," Yohannan said. "And, for the first time since last summer, the local unemployment rate is less than the statewide average, though it remains greater than the national average."

Oregon's unemployment rate in July was 6.8 percent while the nation's unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, the Employment Department reported. In July 2003, Oregon's rate was 8.7 percent and the nation's was 6.2 percent.

Wallowa County

Wallowa County had the highest percentage increase among the six counties, a 3.8-percent employment growth from 3,341 in July 2003 to 3,468 this July.

"With one exception, all local industries were stable or growing in July, and total nonfarm payroll employment increased to 2,530, its highest level since September 2002," Yohannan said.

"The one exception, of course, was local government. When public schools recess for the summer, such support personnel as teaching assistants, substitute teachers and food service workers often drop out of payroll job counts. Administrators, certified teachers and others who work through - or are paid for - the summer months continue to be counted as employed in July and August."

Union County

The greatest loss of jobs in the region occurred in Union County, where employment in July was 12,293, down 197 from 12,490 in July 2003.

Still, Union County had an estimated jobless rate of 4.8 percent in July, the county's lowest rate since October 2002. Yohannan said improvement in Union County's jobless rate has occurred primarily because there are fewer job seekers. Both employment and unemployment were down from the year before.

Grant County

Grant County experienced a slight drop in the number of people working in July, compared to the year before. Employment was 3,558, down 47 from 3,605 in July 2003.

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