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An all-time high

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Ben Jacklet
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Strike that last blog — the one where I drank the Kool-Aid and waxed optimistic about the coming turnaround. The new unemployment numbers are out.

By now, you have no doubt heard that Oregon's jobless rate is the highest it's been since the state began stacking unemployment consistently in 1976. You may also have heard that the job losses in May weren't as bad as was expected, with surprising signs of life in construction (up 1,700 jobs over April) and leisure and hospitality (up 4,900 jobs over April). Does that mean we're on the verge of bouncing back?

Wouldn't it be pretty to think so. Construction and tourism are inherently seasonal, and summer has come to Oregon at last. It's nice to see the new hires, but how do the numbers compare to a year ago?

Not well. Oregon has lost 17,700 construction jobs and 5,900 tourism jobs over the past year. The only areas of gain over the past year have been government jobs, insurance, health care, private education and food manufacturing. Economic bedrocks such as manufacturing, professional services, retail and transportation have been hammered.

Which brings me back to my original quest. Who's going to pull us out of this slump? I'll stick with my core list of companies with potential, and add a few new up-and-comers such as the health care reformers running Wellpartner and the grant gurus at Cayuse. I'm also thrilled to point out that one of the businesses I spotlighted early, Brammo, recently scored a major coup by getting electric bikes into Best Buy stores. If these bikes sell, jobs will come to Ashland.

I also like Oregon's position on craft beer, great wine and electric cars — though not in that order. And bicycles. And specialty foods. And iPhone apps. And film.

Do these pipsqueaks add up to the powerhouses Oregon has lost, the Willamettes and Hynixes and Freightliners?

Of course not. But give them time — and support.

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