Regional evaluation says area needs to produce better jobs

Intel is credited with helping the regional economy recover in the most recent checkup report released by the Value of Jobs Coalition.

According to the report released on Wednesday, the Hillsboro semiconductor company is part of a manufacturing resurgence that has helped the region gain back about 60 percent of the jobs lost since the Great Recession took hold in December 2007. As noted by the Brookings Institution, only New Orleans is increasing its gross metropolitan product faster than the Portland area.

The well-respected think tank also ranks Portland ninth among the top 100 metropolitan regions in the country for its recovery.

But the report presented at the Portland Business Alliance’s monthly breakfast forum is not all good news. It notes that Portland fell further than the national average for metropolitan regions during the recession and so has a longer climb to fully recover. And incomes in the Portland region continue to lag behind many comparable regions and the national average, meaning hardships for a large percent of families and less tax revenue for vital services like schools and public safety.

“What does this all mean? Certainly we should celebrate that we have had success, but we must also recognize that there is still a long ways to go,” according to the 2011 Checkup on the Portland Region’s Economic Health.

The Value of Jobs Coalition includes the Portland Business Alliance, Associated Oregon Industries, Oregon Business Association, Oregon Business Council, Greater Portland Inc. and Port of Portland. It came together in 2010 and contracted with the ECONorthwest economic consultant firm to better understand why the Portland region consistently fell further behind than similar regions in the country during recessions and took longer to recover.

An uphill climb

The group’s early reports documented how Oregon had been overly dependent on the timber industry that collapsed in the state in the 1980s. The high-tech Silicon Forest subsequently created in Washington County helped stabilize the state’s economy. But by then, many similar metropolitan regions had diversified their economies even more, including Seattle and Denver. As a result, incomes in the Portland region continued to trail these regions and the national average.

But after losing 72,400 jobs from August 2008 to August 2009, the region has since added 42,700 jobs, according to the report. Forty-seven percent of the new jobs are in the manufacturing and professional and business services — key traded sector industries that bring money into the region from the rest of the country and the world.

Construction jobs also increased significantly. In addition to those on Intel’s Washington County campuses, they include Oregon University System projects in South Waterfront and light-rail construction work. Employment gains were also made in the retail and food services sectors, reflecting renewed consumer confidence.

The recovery has attracted national attention, with Slate Magazine calling it a “renaissance,” the report says.

But the report notes the Portland region is still 29,700 jobs below pre-recession levels, meaning much work remains to be done. It recommends an even greater emphasis on creating traded sector jobs, and urges policy-makers to take action on the following issues: improving education to attain the goal graduating more students, both at the high school and college levels; making more market-ready industrial land available; investing in transportation infrastructure projects such as the Columbia River Crossing; and reforming the tax system to stabilize public services and attract more private investments.

“Until we see a return of higher-paying jobs, growing investments in critical public services — especially education — will continue to be an uphill climb,” according to the report.

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