Northwestern Oregon has seen its share of economic challenges in 2021, as companies struggled to find clients or staff, or both, but the construction industry has been a bright spot for the region.
In St. Helens, you can spot a number of construction projects that are increasing employment levels and the city’s overall economic growth.
Construction employment in Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln and Tillamook counties climbed to around 3,100 jobs during the summer of 2021 and appeared to have only a small seasonal decline as the industry moved towards Winter. The last time employment reached such a high level was during the housing boom from 2006 to 2008. This time around, growth looks much more sustainable.
From around 2005 to 2015, the construction industry experienced a classic boom and bust fueled by speculative investment followed by a financial collapse. Since then, the industry has experienced solid but not explosive employment growth.
House prices themselves may rise faster than they can sustain over the long term, but construction employment growth has been more subdued. Over the past 20 years, from November 2001 to November 2021, construction employment increased by 54% in Clatsop County, 88% in Columbia County, 23% in Lincoln County and 45% in Tillamook County. (Comparable figures are not available for Benton County as the construction industry is associated with mining and logging.)
This construction employment growth has been faster than comparable overall employment growth and faster than population growth. Overall growth in non-farm payroll employment was 21% in Clatsop County, 18% in Columbia County, 3% in Lincoln County and 17% in Tillamook County. Population growth from 2001 to 2021 was 16% in Clatsop County, 19% in Columbia County, 13% in Lincoln County and 13% in Tillamook County.
Does this mean the construction industry is headed for another boom and bust? Probably not, at least for the foreseeable future. Not only are lending standards stricter than during the boom of the mid-2000s, but the construction industry’s share of total employment in the four counties is fairly typical.
Statewide, the construction industry accounts for 5.9% of total non-farm payroll employment. It has the same share in Clatsop and Columbia counties and is lower than that share in Lincoln County (4.6%) and Tillamook County (4.7%). In addition, these shares have only increased slowly over the past 20 years.
In summary, the construction industry is not an unsustainable part of Northwestern Oregon’s economy. Instead, the industry is experiencing moderate growth in response to a real and sustained increase in demand for housing.
Erik Knoder is a regional economist in the Oregon Department of Employment. He can be reached at 541-351-5595.