North Medford High School students await their graduation during the June 6 commencement. The influx of high school and college graduates is crowding a job market already shrinking because of economic pressures, but economists say grads heading into technical fields can still expect to land relatively well-paying jobs. - Mail Tribune file photo

Rogue Valley businesses, workers increasingly feel the ... Economic squeeze

The economic slowdown has cranked up the pressure for many Rogue Valley job seekers.

The combination of a declining real estate market, hiring freezes by some employers grappling with rising fuel and shipping costs and the entry of college and high school graduates ready to work has made for a crowded job market.

Jackson County May employment figures won't be out until next week, but Oregon's jobless figure nudged up last month to 5.6 percent.

While some sectors have hardly skipped a beat, others haven't seen things so bad in a couple of decades.

"It's a real mixed bag," says Fred Holloway of Holloway Human Resource Consulting. "One group of employers is just flying along right now. If they didn't look at the news they wouldn't know there's a downturn; they would notice the gas prices, though. Those companies are in narrow niche markets not impacted by any current happenings in the economy.

"At the other extreme, there are a lot of companies tied to the housing market or wood products. There are some others hit pretty hard — providers of parts or things like that, and that's where you're hearing about layoffs."

In the middle, he says, are companies looking for light at the end of the tunnel.

"But there doesn't seem to be light at the end of any particular tunnel," Holloway says. "Some don't even know where the tunnel is right now and they're just holding on, tightening down and making sure they can ride this out."

Rising gas prices are changing job search dynamics and even the way some businesses schedule employees.

"Geography is starting to factor into the employment mix," Holloway says. "When people take a job, they've going to consider the commute more than ever before. Gas prices haven't stabilized and continue to rise."

Commutes in these parts don't compare to treks from California's Central Valley to the Bay Area or from the Tri-State Region to New York City, but Holloway predicts fuel prices will make people think about their morning drives.

"If you're living in Ashland or Grants Pass and driving to Medford, the cost of getting to work is considerably more expensive," he says. "It's something employers are going to have to pay attention to. More and more companies are going to start to see their labor pool is going to shrink."

He anticipates employees will likely start knocking on the boss' door looking for solutions to the increased cost of getting to work, asking for a pay increase or a fuel allowance.

"Some employers can and are offering financial assistance to employees," Holloway says. "But many employers don't have the financial resources to cover the increased cost of fuel because they, too, are being impacted by cost increases."

Companies will have to get creative, perhaps providing carpool assistance or altering the work week.

"It's not like companies are experiencing huge windfalls," he says. "But I see more emphasis on performance-based pay with more emphasis on productivity and reducing costs."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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