(Photo above, Courtesy of Sunriver Brewing)
Wood products manufacturing, pre-2000, accounted for the majority of manufacturing jobs in Central Oregon. In fact these jobs accounted for about 37 percent of all manufacturing jobs in Deschutes County, the largest sub-sector of manufacturing.
Then the housing bubble burst.
Today wood products manufacturing accounts for only about 12.5 percent of all manufacturing jobs. “To put that in context employment dropped from 2,090 in 2000 to around 670 last year (2017),” said Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department regional economist for Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Klamath and Lake Counties.
But it’s not fair to point the finger at wood products manufacturing solely for job losses since 2000. Other sub-sectors of manufacturing hit hard were the transportation equipment manufacturers, much of it aviation/aerospace, as well as furniture manufacturing.
But the good news is, as a whole, manufacturing has gained back nearly as many jobs as in the good old days of 2000.
Last year the Oregon Employment Department’s “Central Oregon Industry and Occupational Projections 2017-2027” projected that the wood product sector will lose jobs — but that the broad manufacturing sector is actually expected to see healthy growth — expanding by 13 percent or about 950 jobs.
How is this possible? What segments are making up the difference?
Think beer! Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that craft breweries (and distilleries) are popping up on almost every block. Central Oregon has more than 36 breweries and the Craft Brewers Association reports that the statewide industry contributed about $2.02 billion to Oregon’s economy in 2017.
Beverage manufacturing, under which beer brewing falls, now accounts for well over 700 jobs in Central Oregon. It’s now the largest sub-sector of manufacturing in Deschutes County.
When asked recently why there is such a proliferation of breweries in Central Oregon, Initiative Brewing’s President and Chief Financial Officer Ryan Churchill said, “There’s a local finance officer that we talk to and he said that we look at breweries as an industry that cannot fail.” Initiative Brewing, Redmond, is planning on opening later this year.
So more good news is that manufacturing is no longer being held hostage to the housing market. It is much more diverse today than ever before. “We now have a good mix of both durable goods (hard products), and non-durable goods (food and drink),” Runberg said.
Over the past 20 years there has been growth in fabricated metal products, food manufacturing, primary metals, chemicals and plastics.
Straw Propeller Gourmet Foods is a manufacturer of gourmet oatmeal and muesli cereal. Founded in 2011 in Redmond, the company employs about 14 people and prides itself on being “committed to whole foods, simple foods and healthy foods.” Sales and Marketing Manager, Lycia Bailey, is anticipating sustained growth and profitability for the company. “Our sales are definitely speeding up. We’re hoping for over 300 percent growth over the next three to five years.”
But growth and profitability does not mean more employees. “We’re changing our shipping procedures to include more automation so we won’t require more people,” Bailey said. “We’re going to have a more efficient operation overall.”
Laird Superfood is a manufacturer and distributor of “superfood-based products” — high quality coffee, creamers and sweeteners. Sisters-based since 2015, the principal mission of Laird Superfood is to provide healthy, wholesome products that are affordable and available to all. The company has about 50 employees — but big plans for growth.
Co-founder and CEO, Paul Hodge, quoted in the Bend Bulletin May 28, 2018, stated that he anticipates rapid growth. “It’s ramping up a lot faster than we ever expected,” Hodge said. “We can foresee having as many as 300 to 500 employees within five years here at this location.”
Runberg is upbeat about the future for these sub-sectors. “We anticipate continued growth from these non-wood products firms.” Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) continues to pursue manufacturing as one of their targeted sectors. Moving, starting and growing businesses is central to their mission. Roger Lee, CEO with EDCO, is optimistic about manufacturing sub- sectors — but with a caveat regarding the availability of built space.
“That said, with shrinking inventories of built space across the region that could be used by manufacturers, we expect higher employment growth rates and opportunities in professional services and non-manufacturing segments of high technology (i.e. software, IT, data storage and computing) in the years ahead.”
Preston Callicott, chief executive officer with Five Talent Software, Bend, understands the impact that high tech and software companies are having on the region’s jobs and wages. In a Cascade Business News article, February 3, 2017, Callicott said, “We’re rebuilding the middle-class which was decimated by the mill closings and the loss of forestry jobs, with higher wages and low-impact jobs.”
If there was one cloud hanging over the otherwise sunny future of manufacturing in Central Oregon it would have to be the challenge of hiring qualified employees. Signs and advertisements for unfilled jobs are everywhere these days.
“We are working currently with dozens of local manufacturers who have what we expect, anecdotally, to exceed 1,000 local jobs going unfilled for lack of qualified applicants,” Lee said. “This is both a function of our record low unemployment rates as well as a troubling disconnect between job seekers (and the emerging workforce) and employers regarding the skills needed for today’s jobs.”
EDCO is working hard to remedy this disconnect through Central Oregon Youth Career Connect youthcareerconnect.org which connects high school, college and university students with area employers for the purpose of creating or continuing internships that provide real work experience to young adults.
Working with their partner organizations, as well as with local Chambers of Commerce across the region, EDCO is focused on exposing students to meaningful work experiences through internships — and maybe filling the future manufacturing pipeline.
Central Oregon companies participating include PCC Schlosser, Straw Propeller Gourmet Foods, the High Desert Educational District and Impact Graphix and Signs, Inc. to name just a few.
“We’ve just got started on implementation with local coordinators now a year into that work, but the vision is to have thousands of young adults working with local employers,” Lee said.