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Construction crews work on the Highway 62 expressway Tuesday. Construction activity is up in Jackson County, which is feeding job growth in other areas.

Construction, retail spur local job growth

Road building, infrastructure for housing and commercial developments have kept construction workers busy through the winter.


Now with the spring temperatures arriving, construction projects are picking up the pace.


“There is a lot of demand out there, with more stuff in the pipeline, looking at the first couple of months of permit data,” said Guy Tauer, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. “We slacked off a bit in 2017 compared to 2016, but the first couple of months of 2018 show we’re off to a good start.”


Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released Tuesday show Jackson County employment remained on solid footing in March. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained in the so-called full-employment range at 4.5 percent, up from 4.4 percent in February, and 4.0 percent a year ago.


For the past 25 months, the county’s labor force has exceeded 100,000, peaking at 106,492 in October 2016. With both population and job growth trending up, there were 2,890 more people earning paychecks than March 2017. During the past year, the labor force grew by 3,074 to 105,340. Non-farm payroll grew by 3.1 percent to 87,730, adding 2,640 jobs.


Medford’s role as a regional retail hub was underscored with the addition of 150 jobs in March, boosting the total to 13,760. For the past year, retail trade jobs have grown by 6 percent, adding 770 positions.


“The idea of us all buying everything from Amazon, that brick-and-mortar would be things of the past, and malls would turn into indoor grow operations around the state is overblown,” Tauer said. “Certainly, we remain as a shopping hub with the growth we’re seeing at the Northgate (Marketplace) shopping center and the new Hobby Lobby going into the old Costco building.”


Growth leads to more growth in areas such as the south Medford interchange, he suggested.


“When you have more hotels going up, it takes restaurants to support that and retail to support that,” Tauer said. “When you have Cracker Barrel and Five Guys going in, it creates a cycle of prosperity, success breeds success.”


With contractors needing to reach farther to pull in subcontractors for both small and large projects, not all the activity shows up in local employment, Tauer said. One Redding tile firm sends as many as three vans for jobs, such as making over the Holmes Mansion for Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice.


“It’s pretty common for contractors to take bids from out of the area and go with the most competitive bid,” he said. “Outside architecture and design businesses do projects here, and we don’t have a lot of large engineering and geotechnical firms.”


Leisure and hospitality services added 210 jobs in March, with accommodation and food services picking up 170 positions.


The University of Oregon Economic Index, released last week, showed construction was strong statewide, with building permits hitting a new high for this cycle, and is consistent with past expansions. Trucking also picked up, based on the most recent weight-distance tax report.


At the same time, initial unemployment claims declined.


Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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