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Tom Hammond, owner of Southern Oregon Brewing Co., said he believes that job creation in Jackson County is primarily at the small business level.

Jackson County jobless rate remains stagnant

Jackson County's jobless rate is locked in the doldrums, going nowhere fast and stuck a long way from the promised land of full employment.

While the Oregon Employment Department reported the August unemployment rate of 11.6 percent is better than the 12.7 percent figure of August 2010, the chart has flat-lined in the 11 percent range ever since dipping below 12 percent in January.

"Coming out of the recession we were in third gear during the last quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011, but we've slipped back into first gear," said Regional Economist Guy Tauer. "We're still going forward, but at an awfully slow pace."

He said the wind down of Musician's Friend will contribute to lower employment numbers — both month to month and year over year.

"There has been some growth in manufacturing, and we should start seeing a spike when Harry & David hires for the holiday season," Tauer said.

But there's nothing on the horizon suggesting long-term job growth.

Tom Hammond sees the local economy both through the prism of a small businessman, operating Southern Oregon Brewing Co., and as an anesthesiologist.

His brewery, which opened in November 2007, has six employees. Revenue growth has been decidedly stronger in the Portland and Seattle markets than in Southern Oregon. He's not expecting a large employer to arrive, bringing dozens of new jobs, but he thinks there can be significant growth if buyers spend money on local products so that dollars are recirculated in the valley.

"I'm a firm believer that job creation is primarily at the small-business level," Hammond said. "Look at all the large corporations that are cutting back and outsourcing jobs to other countries."

If people buy their beer, wine, cheese and other products manufactured locally, it will increase opportunities for employment, he reasoned.

"By people spending an extra 50 cents for something, they will end up supporting the valley," he said. "Making it more viable, sustainable and secure through an increased tax base and infrastructure, which means safety, roads and schools."

Jobless people lack health insurance, and that in turn stunts the medical community, a key component in Southern Oregon's economy.

"Higher unemployment leads to more people and dollars going to government support programs, and as a physician I see difficulty for our state and community recruiting new physicians because the payer mix is so poor."

The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released figures for the Medford Metropolitan Statistical Area (Jackson County and the Medford MSA are one in the same), and the finding underscored the area's difficulties.

Nationwide, the federal agency disclosed a 2.5 percent expansion among the MSAs during 2010. While Portland (4.7 percent growth) and Corvallis (6.8 percent) both surpassed the national average, Bend's economy contracted 0.7 percent and Medford's 0.3 percent.

The report showed that the financial, construction and natural-resource sectors all diminished, while two groups — leisure and hospitality, along with private education and health services — grew 0.2 percent.

While Eugene and Medford showed little gain from a crummy 2009, Portland bounced back behind high tech, exports and non-housing sector manufacturing.

Tauer said total payroll employment in the county declined by 70 jobs in August, but during the past 12 months the number of jobs has grown by 1,150, a 1.6 percent gain.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

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