Good jobs fuel state economy
The 10-year outlook for new jobs in Oregon isn't exactly bleak, but a report this week from the Oregon Employment Department doesn't project a robust economic future.
Whether Oregon merely fulfills the forecasters' expectations - or whether it exceeds them - will depend on elected leaders and citizens strategically investing in education, work-force training and other outcomes that employ people.
The employment division is projecting reasonable job growth for the 2006-16 forecasting period - about 14 percent. That number is at the low end of the state's historic job-growth averages and would produce just over 240,000 new jobs by 2016.
Yet it's not so much the quantity of jobs that will be created, but the quality of some jobs that ought to be of utmost concern.
The employment department projects that service jobs - such as those found in restaurants, bars, casinos, hotels and entertainment establishments - will be the single largest growth area, followed by office support. Other high-growth occupations will be in professionally related jobs and in health care.
Quality jobs make for a quality state
We would never seek to slight any person who is gainfully employed. But some job categories are economically more desirable than others. Health care, for example, is an industry that can support higher wages and offer more employee benefits. However, many service jobs tend to be lower paying.
The link between the state's investment in education and the state economy's ability to create and sustain good family-wage jobs is undeniable. As the employment department's report reminds us, jobs that require the most education provide the greatest rewards for individuals, but also for the state and its communities.
In turn, a better employment base means more income tax funding for programs - such as education, health and human services, and public safety.
The interdependent relationship between education and a healthy economy requires the public and private sectors to invest and partner strategically.
The state must consistently invest in community colleges and universities. Private employers must provide even greater opportunities for work-force training. As these investments pay off for the state in the form of higher tax receipts, a significant portion of those dollars must be plowed back into education.
What's the next growth engine?
Beyond education, Oregon's leaders must continue to define what industries and employment they want to attract and invest in.
In part, job growth is projected to be slow because of uncertainty over what will be Oregon's major engine of growth. As the state report notes, growth engines of the past have included home building and the high-tech industry during the 1980s and 1990s.
One important opportunity that's being discussed by business and government leaders involved with the Oregon Business Plan is the issue of sustainability.
Emerging industries are coalescing around that cause, and Oregon's position as a leader in sustainability ought to be advanced next week when the Oregon Business Plan's annual leadership summit is held Monday in Portland.
Sustainability may be just one driver of future employment. But the goal must be for Oregonians to control their own economic destiny - and that requires a commitment to work-force training and education, and an investment in job creation that goes beyond the efforts of today.