A year ago at this time I was researching a story about Oregon’s underground economy, and the conclusions I was drawing were downright bleak. The job market wasn’t just down, it was dead. I remember tracking Craigslist Portland for a week and estimating that scams and under-the-table services outnumbered legitimate jobs by about 10 to 1.
That's no longer the case. The ratio is still bad, Craigslist being Craigslist, but job postings have improved from about 200 per day to about 250 per day. And far fewer of them strike me as scams. Metal fabrication operator, therapist and automotive title clerk are the top three entries I see as I browse through right now. These are real jobs with real businesses that are hiring.
That’s exactly what Oregon needs right now: less whining and more hiring. Here's a quick sampler of businesses that are making things happen in a variety of positive ways:
* Portland-based FMYI (for MY innovation), a start-up that builds innovative online workspaces, nearly tripled its headcount in 2008 and 2009, from six to 16 employees. Revenues shot up by 275%. Sure, it’s easier to grow quickly when you’re young, but in this economy? They must be onto something.
* OnPoint Credit Union gained 11,000 members and added 43 jobs in 2009, CEO Rob Stuart recently told me. Oregon’s largest credit union has thrived while the big banks have faltered and plans to open four to six new branches in 2010.
* Wilshire Credit, the Beaverton mortgage servicing giant with ties to Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and now IBM, is also expanding in interesting ways. The most recent hire I’ve noticed from the company’s LinkedIn page is a recruiter who describes herself thusly in her profile: “A change agent when it comes to organizational strategy, communications, verbal and electronic. Who very often doesn't take no for an answer and might drive you crazy with that question, why? And will challenge the comfortable.”
That’s encouraging. If ever there was an industry in need of change agents, it is the mortgage servicing industry.
* Another big change on the way has to do with the mountains of plastic Oregonians supposedly recycle each year. Actually, all we’ve done with most of this junk has been to send it to China and let them recycle it into something useful. But a new company called ORPET plans to break ground soon on a new plastics recycling plant in St. Helens expected to employ 50 people while making the state’s recycling system more sustainable.
That’s a nice development for St. Helen’s, which has been hit hard by the downfall of the paper industry.
* Good news has also popped up in other regions that have been struggling. Coastal towns in Southern Oregon such as Charleston, Bandon and Coos Bay have been the biggest beneficiaries of this winter’s awesome Dungeness crab season. And out in La Grande, a small company called Integrated Biomass is expanding and hiring seven people as part of a wider trend in the timber industry to move beyond mass commodities and into specialized products.
* Even Crook County, which has led the state in unemployment through the recession, has positive change coming its way, in the form of a new server farm to store the electronic flood of stuff getting posted on Facebook. That will bring construction jobs, permanent positions and a new source of revenue into an area that needs all of the above.
* Even Bend is seeing some signs of life after the mother of boom-bust cycles. Central Oregon real estate sales are up 125% year over year.
* Finally, in my last tidbit of good economic news this morning, Full Sail Brewing is soon to release its Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Porter.
OK, so that last one was a stretch but hey, the stuff is made in Oregon right? By Oregonians working for an employee-owned company based in Hood River, right?
So what’s the downside?
Ben Jacklet is the Managing Editor of Oregon Business.