Where the jobs are

Study shows many job openings in Central Oregon are for low-wage work

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin / @EGlucklich

Published Nov 3, 2013 at 04:00AM

Bend company Navis seems to constantly be in hiring mode these days.

The tourism-related business added about 40 new workers over the last year, and wants to add 80 more by January, including 60 in its growing call center, which helps vacationers book hotel reservations across the country, said Bill Schlosser, vice president of marketing.

“The economy has certainly helped in the last year,” Schlosser said. “Resort and vacation rental companies’ business is picking up.”

Customer service representatives are in high demand at companies like Navis and across Central Oregon, according to a recently released Oregon Employment Department study.

High Desert employers posted nearly 700 ads seeking customer service representatives through the Employment Department’s online database, more than any other occupation.

The Employment Services Job Order Summary Report analyzed job openings posted to the database between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, by employers in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties. It also compared Central Oregon job posts with others across the state, and how many were full-time or part-time.

Its findings highlighted some of the gaps between the local economy and the rest of Oregon, several economists said.

Just 71 percent of Central Oregon job posts were for full-time work, compared with 80 percent for Oregon as a whole. And many occupations in high demand locally were among the lowest-paying jobs available.

Of the roughly 6,000 job posts over the one-year time period, nearly 40 percent were for retail, customer service, food preparation, janitorial services or housekeeping positions.

Last year, Deschutes County retail employees earned an annual average wage of $26,600, gross, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Customer service workers took home $32,600 on average.

For food service, janitorial and housekeeping positions, average yearly pay was between $15,100 and $17,800. Deschutes County’s median income for a family of four is $52,962.

To an extent, Central Oregon’s status as a tourism hub attracts retail and hospitality jobs, while its distance from Interstate 5 makes it a tougher draw for many of the state’s higher-wage manufacturing, engineering and financial-service jobs that cluster around the Portland area, said Damon Runberg, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department.

“It’s a lot easier to put a manufacturer on the I-5 corridor or along the Columbia River,” Runberg said.

Statewide, manufacturing positions — including management positions at manufacturing companies — came with an average annual pay of $62,000 last year.

But more than 60 percent of the state’s population lives around Portland, Salem and Eugene. For a lot of big regional companies that make and ship products, operating along the I-5 corridor is “cheaper and quicker,” Runberg said. “No matter how you slice it, Highway 97 is not the most conducive trucking route” for moving finished goods.

Some of the state’s highest-paying jobs seem to be passing Central Oregon altogether.

According to the study, employers posted more than 2,000 openings for accountants and financial managers across Oregon, but just 50 of them came from Central Oregon.

There were more than 2,300 posts for software developers, but just five in Central Oregon.

Jobs are created based on demand in an area, said Josh Lehner, senior economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Central Oregon’s status as a tourism hub is undeniable, so it makes sense that the area would see more openings for food service and retail work than manufacturing and technology jobs. Lower-wage positions also tend to have higher turnover, as employees leave for other opportunities. More of those jobs are also part-time.

“Bend has obviously had some strong population growth over the years,” Lehner said. “But if you want to support those higher-wage jobs, you need even more growth.”

Expanding Oregon State University-Cascades Campus into a four-year school could help in the long run.

Still, not all of the Central Oregon openings paid low wages. Jobs in the medical field seem to offer the most opportunity for Central Oregon job seekers to earn $40,000 a year or more.

According to the study, Central Oregon employers posted 417 openings for health and social assistance jobs between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30. Those ran the gamut from nurses and medical assistants to laboratory technicians, pharmacists and emergency medical technicians.

The average health and social assistance job paid $49,800 in Deschutes County last year, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

Local health care providers are driving that growth. Bend Memorial Clinic has increased its workforce from 600 to 627 over the last year, said Christy McLeod, the clinic’s chief marketing officer. St. Charles Health System posted about 100 job openings on its website in the month of October.

Bend Memorial’s hires included a new vascular surgeon in July, as well as additional support staff in its cardiology unit.

“There are a lot of people in our area who need medical care,” McLeod said. “We just can’t seem to keep up the pace.”

To find job openings

The Oregon Employment Department has an online database of job openings, searchable by occupation, location and other criteria. To see jobs available in the region, visit www.emp.state.or.us/jobs and select Central Oregon in the location menu.