Additional losses tied to expected decline in business, household spending

by: KATIE WILSON - A week after Boise Inc. announced it would be shutting down its last remaining machine at the end of the year, it's still not clear what will happen to the property, city sewer rates and the 106 employees who will lose their jobs.Oregon Employment Department officials calculate local fallout from the end-of-year Boise Inc. shutdown of the St. Helens mill at a combined loss of 325 jobs, continuing an unsavory trend that places Columbia County behind the curve for statewide employment recovery.

Jobs in fields ranging from commercial logging and accounting to local food and service industries are expected to be hit by the layoff of 106 employees at the mill, according to an impact analysis provided by Nick Belieiciks, the state’s employment economist. In addition to the direct jobs lost, an additional 137 are expected to disappear from a decline in business purchases and 82 from a drop in household spending, according to the data.

“Wages in manufacturing are much higher, on average, than average wages across all industries in Columbia County,” said Shawna Sykes, a workforce analyst for Northwest Oregon Employment Department Research Division, in an email to The Spotlight.

The average wage for a manufacturing job is $50,129, while the average wage across all other industries in Columbia County is $32,742.

“Thus, the impact of losing those 106 jobs is greater to the local economy than the loss would be of jobs in other industries,” Sykes said.

Boise Inc. officials announced intentions last week to idle the company’s last remaining paper machine, called H2, by Dec. 31 due to falling demand, bringing a halt to the production of uncoated freesheet paper at the St. Helens mill. One machine, separately owned by Cascades Tissue Group, will continue operations.

Boise Inc. officials said they are exploring alternatives for inactive portions of the mill.

Jeanne Crawford, owner of Finders Keepers/Children’s Closet, a new and resale clothing store at 2035 Columbia Blvd., in St. Helens, said sales had improved since the last mass layoff in 2009, when Boise Inc. shut down two paper machines and dismissed 300 workers as the holidays approached.

“It hurt me in 2009, but it’s been slowly coming back,” she said, adding that Boise Inc.’s plans to layoff the remainder of its employees is likely to hinder the local recovery.

“I think it’s going to hurt us all,” she said.

James Penley, manager for the St. Helens Oregon Employment Department worksite, said he and others from his staff are meeting Thursday with Boise Inc. representatives to set a timetable for meeting with the affected employees.

Assistance services will depend on that meeting and the employees’ response to a customized survey, he said.

“We’ll find out what kinds of things they are interested in, what services, what classes,” he said. “We really won’t know much until Thursday.”

As is often the case with mass layoffs, state-offered retraining services are likely to focus on high-demand jobs and, increasingly, self-employment options, Sykes said.

Manufacturing jobs within Columbia County have dropped 690 jobs, a 35 percent decline, in the past 10 years, with wood product and paper manufacturing making up the greatest portion of cutbacks, according to state analysts.

Current unemployment estimates for Columbia County released Tuesday place it at 9.2 percent, down from last month’s 9.5 percent.

The unemployment rate in Columbia County has remained higher than the state level, currently at 8.7 percent, and Portland metro region for the past decade, largely due to increasing population and declining jobs.

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