Central Oregon’s real estate market came back strong in the last year, and many manufacturers across the High Desert are nearing record levels of production.
But living-wage jobs aren’t being created fast enough for a true recovery to take hold. And consumers could find themselves short of disposable income if home prices and interest rates rise next year without wages following suit.
Those takes on the region’s economy came from several business, real estate and education officials Wednesday at a Bend Chamber of Commerce-sponsored economic forecast discussion.
Becky Johnson, vice president of Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, talked about the university’s effort to graduate more students with science and engineering degrees. The school recently launched a computer science program, which Johnson said could help attract tech-savvy students to the region and keep local talent in Central Oregon.
“If you provide those opportunities and grow that workforce here, students are more likely to stay” in the region after graduating, she said.
Other speakers touched on the impact of political gridlock on hiring and expansion decisions.
Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said he’s heard from several businessleaders this year who want to grow, but they’re unsure of how changes to health care and other financial policies will hit their bottom lines.
“When we talk to companies, we’re hearing about that uncertainty,” Lee said. “People don’t want to be caught unaware.” But Lee added that 2013 has been strong overall. EDCO helped recruit as many businesses to the region during the third quarter of the year as it had in some previous full years.
Those companies are pushing down the supply of empty commercial properties, a positive sign for a region that saw vacancy rates soar above 20 percent in the middle of the recession, said Brian Fratzke, principal broker with Fratzke Commercial Real Estate.
Kris Scholl, technical director for Deschutes Brewery, shared concerns about low-wage earners falling further behind higher-earning peers as the economy recovers.
Even when employment hits prerecession levels, the region will be worse off than before if a large section of the population can’t afford homes, cars and other big purchases that drive economic activity, Scholl said.