BEND, Ore. - Despite a big jump in January employment, Central Oregon is seeing a slowdown in economic growth. According to Regional Economist Damon Runberg, the region's economy is maturing.
Runberg said the labor supply has gotten really tight, so businesses aren't expanding at the rate they had been previously.
"We just don't have people to fill jobs, so in some cases we're seeing the demand for labor from help-wanted ads is still relatively elevated," Runberg said. "So it's not that businesses are saying, 'We're done hiring. We've filled up.' It's that we're having an ever-increasing challenge of finding people to fill those jobs."
The lack of available workers is forcing employers to look outside Central Oregon for qualified employees. That's leading to problems with affordable housing and housing availability, which is why experts said a slowdown could be a good thing.
"Hopefully, we'll see some slower (growth) rates, which means our cities and our developers can catch up a bit, and some of the housing that's being built today is going to help dig us out of the hole, as opposed to keeping us in the same spot," Runberg said. "We're basically building fast enough to not make anything worse."
Experts said the jump in January's job picture is partly due to the milder winter weather. Unseasonably warm weather headed off many of the typical seasonal layoffs in Central Oregon.
In January 2017, more than 1,400 jobs were shed, compared to January 2018, when just 880 were lost.
Runberg wants people who worry about an economic slowdown to know that it doesn't mean the economy is going down the drain.
"You know, and they see the line start sloping downward, they assume that eventually you've got to go from slowing growth to negative growth, aka job losses," he said. "I don't see that happening, not any time soon. There's no trigger or mechanism that says Central Oregon's going to start moving backwards, as far as this current expansion."
Construction saw the most job growth in 2017 in Deschutes County, adding 920 jobs. Crook County and Jefferson County also saw a small amount of job growth overall.