Local payrolls up despite job loss numbers

Even as declining construction and resource-based jobs have put pressure on unemployment rolls, economic developers are busily wooing the next wave of employers.

Business owners positioning themselves for future growth are taking advantage of the economic lull to scout out opportunities.

"They're snooping around," said Bill Hoke, the city of Medford's economic development chief. "Last month, I got two or three phone calls and a visit or so. It isn't smart to make the move right now, but they want to have stuff in place when things turn around."

Construction, manufacturing, natural resources and mining all saw job losses in September, yet Jackson County payrolls grew by 1,940 jobs, according to Oregon Employment Department figures. Seasonal increases in retail and education accounted for most of the gain.

The Employment Department reported a 6.7 percent jobless rate for the county in September, a drop from August's 7.6 percent mark, but well above the 5 percent figure of September 2007. During the past 12 months, payrolls fell by 1,080 jobs — a 1.2 percent drop.

Despite the big hits, there are areas of growth led by education and health and social services.

"There's a reasonable amount of interest from companies interested in the area right now," said Larry Holzgang, a business development manager for the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department. "Companies are coming in and taking a look. It's slower, but there are industries that aren't as dramatically effected by the downturn. They are looking here for both business growth and demand as well as lifestyle change."

He said one natural products firm from the Bay Area is weighing the prospects of moving here or to Colorado.

"The cost of doing business in the Bay Area is so expensive," Holzgang said. "They need to expand and decided to look outside the Bay Area. It's an owner-run business so the owner moves with the business. It speaks well of us that they are looking at us as well as Colorado."

Hoke said he was surprised to see the number of hits on Medford's economic development site picking up.

"We're not having a banner year by any stretch, but we're starting to see people interested in the area," Hoke said. "Those projects are further out."

In September, construction employment fell by 30, pushing job losses since a year ago to 420. Manufacturing employment dipped by 70 in September and trails last year's mark by 360. Retail trade began a seasonal upswing in earnest, gaining 980 jobs from August. Still, the sector has shed 610 jobs. Regional economist Guy Tauer noted the trend is in step with national numbers.

Health care and social assistance was a bright spot in the local job market, adding 50 positions in September and gaining 340 during the year.

Ron Fox, who heads Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., said Oregon has advantages when it comes to attracting new business, including lower taxes.

"The Tax Foundation reported Oregon was No. 9 in taxation and California No. 48," Fox said. "Business costs are still a critical factor in company expansion and relocation."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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