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Long-term job losses still dwarf gains

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Ben Jacklet
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

By Ben Jacklet

Earlier this year, Powell’s Books made national headlines by eliminating 31 jobs in Portland, stirring up familiar questions about the future of independent booksellers in the age of e-readers and smart phones. But a quick study of the latest numbers from Oregon’s top private companies shows that Powell’s actually survived the recession in a stronger position than many of its peers.

While Powell’s has shrunk its workforce by 44 people since 2008, from 540 to 496, other pillars of the state’s private sector have made far larger cuts, according to statistics being compiled by Oregon Business' research editor for its upcoming annual Private 150 project, which ranks the state's private companies by revenue.

Topping the list is the state’s largest private employer, Klamath Falls-based Jeld-Wen. The window and door manufacturer has cut about 1,000 jobs in Oregon since 2008, from 3,500 employees to 2,500. The company has put up for sale 49,330 acres of land in Southern Oregon and has agreed to sell a 39% stake to a Canadian private equity firm.

Other major employers have fallen even harder, or gone under entirely. The combined losses of the Joe’s Sports stores (500 Oregon jobs in 2008), the Blue Heron paper mill (250 jobs) and the North Pacific distribution network (200 jobs) leave a gaping hole in the state’s private sector, especially when you factor in all the cutbacks vendors and suppliers had to make in response to those losses.

It is far more challenging to identify large privately held employers in Oregon that gained jobs since 2008. But they do exist. Here are a few examples:
1.    The 72-store discount chain Bi-Mart, based in Eugene, which has grown from 3,028 jobs to 3,300 (372 jobs gained since 2008)
2.    Swan Island ship repair specialist Vigor Industrial, from 425 employees to 600 (175 jobs gained)
3.    Portland-based Integra Telecom, from 500 to 623 jobs (123 jobs)
4.    The Plaid Pantries convenience store chain, from 655 jobs to 725 (70 jobs)
5.    Portland advertising firm R2C Group, up from 70 jobs to 106 (36 jobs)
6.    Sherm’s Thunderbird Market and Food4Less stores in Southern Oregon, from 600 to 633 jobs (33 jobs gained)
7.    Bend’s Deschutes Brewery, from 277 jobs to 295 (18 jobs)
8.    Gresham’s Allegro Media Group, from 82 jobs to 97 jobs (15 jobs)

Adding 15 jobs over three years may not seem like a newsworthy accomplishment — until you consider what Oregon’s economy has been through. Powell’s made the headlines, but other vital businesses quietly shed hundreds of jobs that have not been replaced and will not be replaced soon, especially in the home-building and timber industries. No wonder true job recovery is so slow in coming.

More complete findings about the state's private sector will be available once our 2011 Private 150 list is published in the July issue of Oregon Business (available on our website on June 27). You can check out last year’s Private 150 list here.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.

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