Ben Bernanke said it, so it must be true: The recession is over. Why am I not feeling relieved? For starters, Oregon’s new jobless numbers are out, and they are worse than ever. Unemployment has more than doubled over the past year.
Construction jobs are down 16.3% year over year. Manufacturing jobs are down 15.2%. Professional and business services are down 8.7%. Even government jobs have dropped. There may be signs of rebirth hidden somewhere in these figures, but I’m not seeing them.
Meanwhile, projects that had me thinking optimistic thoughts about Oregon’s future are fizzling out. Amazon is backing away from its plan to build a server farm in Boardman. Vestas appears to be waffling on its earlier promise to building a new headquarters building in Portland. Once mighty Tektronix is being forced by its parent company to move jobs from Beaverton to Shanghai.
And then there are the banks. I just received my most recent quarterly report from Bauer Financial rating the banks and credit unions of Oregon based on capital ratios and earnings (losses). As recently as a year ago I would skim the report in five minutes and then delete it. The report rates institutions from one to five stars, with a score of one signifying the bank is considered troubled. Well, in this most recent report four Oregon-based community banks — Bank of the Cascades, Liberty Bank, Columbia River Bank and MBank — scored zero, meaning they are worse than troubled. Shorebank, the parent company for a bank beloved to the Portland sustainability movement also scored a big fat zero, as did Old West Federal Credit Union in John Day. That adds up to six banks on the brink. These institutions have been deemed small enough to fail from the perspective of the U.S. Treasury, and if they do it will be very bad news for the economies of Bend, Eugene, The Dalles, Gresham and John Day, not to mention the Pearl District.
Once again I return to my core question: Where are the Oregon companies that are going to pull us out of the abyss?
They do exist. A few examples:
* TriQuint has come back strong and is hiring engineers in Hillsboro after its recent acquisition of TriAccess Technologies.
* Intel’s stock price is back in positive territory year over year, albeit marginally.
* Flir Systems has landed a string of contracts with the U.S. military, the Colombian military and the Indian Air Force.
* And Insitu, the Boeing subsidiary that builds unmanned aircraft, is considering expanding into Cascade Locks.
Things are also looking up for Lithia Motors, FEI and Schnitzer Steel. Businesses that suffered mightily over the past year are fighting their way back to health.
Maybe Bernanke is right after all. Or maybe not. What do you think?
Ben Jacklet is the managing editor of Oregon Business.