Central Oregon is in the midst of an economic expansion. Consumer confidence is high, the economy is more diversified and unemployment is going down.
But, the narrative is changing. Due to a shrinking labor force, businesses are going to have to start thinking about how they can attract and retain the best and brightest employees.
“We’re seeing labor shortages across the board in different industries, diverse industries,” Damon Runberg, panelist and Central Oregon economist for the Oregon Employment Department, told an audience of about 300 at the Bend Chamber Economic Forecast Breakfast. “We’re starting to see the tightening of the labor supply diminish the ability of businesses to expand because they can’t find the right workers.”
He said the supply of labor is diminishing, related to the number of jobs in the economy. But on the other hand, he said the demand for labor is increasing very rapidly.
Runberg attributed the shortage to a number of factors including the aging population in the county and the lack of affordable housing. He said those taking home a median single-family wage in Deschutes County, can barely afford to rent an apartment in Bend.
“You need people to live here if you want them to be part of the labor supply,” he said.
Panelist Charley Miller, president of the Miller Lumber Company, said many of the issues our community is struggling with today were the same in the 1900s. Despite the challenges over the years, he said Bend has been able to succeed because of the people in the community.
“Bend has been led by positive people who come up with solutions to challenges. They don’t sit idle. They just make things happen. And they don’t do it for now, they take the long view,” Miller said.
Miller said it is a critical time in Central Oregon. There are big decisions surrounding issues like the new urban growth boundary, transit and multi-family housing, that are going to be taking place over the next few months. Those decisions are going to influence what Bend looks like in the future, he said.
“Bend will grow. Bend will change. Be involved,” Miller advised the audience at The Riverhouse Convention Center.
Dino Vendetti, panelist and managing director of Seven Peaks Ventures, said he believes that those new to town in the emerging industries will get engaged with the community naturally.
“I don’t know if there’s any magic formula for getting people engaged, other than I think once people have been in Bend for a couple years… they realize, wow, this is a really active community,” he said. “People are involved, they care about what’s going on in town and they have a voice.”
View the economic forecast presentation HERE.