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Editor's Notes: On the road, looking for recovery

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Robin Doussard
Sunday, August 02, 2009

This year’s trip to Spain is sitting on the top of my house. The rot was showing through, so we broke down and replaced the darned roof last month. And what did that mean? Right. A staycation.

So last week during the record heat we joined the ranks of vacationers in Oregon, mostly running around the state to escape the heat, from Timothy Lake to the Coast to the McKenzie River. Now, living in Oregon is heaven to me, so I’m not complaining. And roaming around for a week gave me an interesting view of how business is doing in Small Town, OR. While the beauty of the state can’t be overstated, neither can the effects of the economic meltdown.

Almost everywhere we went we were reminded of how badly the recession has settled in around the state. But even if you are taking a staycation, it doesn’t mean you are filling up the hotels or restaurants or spending a lot of money.

We floated the McKenzie midweek and our river guide was the usual friendly kind of guy you’re lucky to get for three hours on such a trip. He told us that a lot of the guides had been laid off this year and he was just happy to be working. During the winter he works ski patrol. His boss, who owns the rafting company, has two other jobs to make ends meeting. Welcome to making a living in rural Oregon.

A few days later, we headed to the Willamette Valley wine country for dinner in Carlton. We stopped at the Tyrus Evan Tasting Room in downtown Carlton to sample some of Ken Wright’s fine whites, where we were almost the only visitors there. Then we headed to dinner where again we were virtually alone. A Saturday night during the summer at a great restaurant when Oregonians are supposed to be out in full force enjoying their state. What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with the picture is that we are a state with hundreds of thousands of people out of work. We are a state with one of the nation’s highest jobless rates.

To add insult to injury, we have economists like Tim Duy of the University of Oregon dithering over whether maybe likely just possibly but don’t get overly optimistic the recession is coming to an end, but it will be a “jobless recovery.” (And Duy modestly added: "I think I am a little bit of fresh air.”) Can a recovery really be a recovery without jobs? Ask your neighbor. With Oregon’s average unemployment rate of 12.2%, there’s a good chance one of them is out of work. Maybe you included.

I was happy to stay in Oregon and spend my cash in its small towns, where unemployment is so much more desperate than the state average. Better to give that tip to the river guide than a Barcelona bartender. Now all we need is recovery with jobs. That truly would be some fresh air.

Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business magazine.

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