Economic analysis way off base

Robert R. Richards /


Published Mar 24, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

On Feb. 21, there appeared in The Bulletin a piece by Bruce Ward, Ed Whitelaw and Phillip Taylor, who refer to themselves as economists. While their article was just recently brought to my attention, it is so flawed that it impels exposure.

Their article commences with the rather flippant assertion that the widely held view by Oregonians that Bend is the most rapidly growing urban economy in the state is “so wrong.”

In truth, it is remarkable that the authors, who teach at one of Oregon's universities, could be so misleadingly wrong.

Their flawed analysis commences immediately in their article with their switching from the subject of growth to the subject of resilience, noting that in the recent recession, Corvallis' employment did not fall at all and the employment of Eugene, Medford and Portland fell significantly less than that of Bend. But that is not the correct perspective. When people talk about exciting places, they are not referring to downside resilience; they are referring to upside achievement and potential. Extending the time period out to a more valid range, say the last decade, rather than the last few years from peak to trough, a dramatically different picture emerges.

According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, from 2001 to 2011 total average annual nonfarm payroll employment changed in the five metropolitan areas being compared by the authors as follows:

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro Metropolitan Statistical Area — up by 2.1 percent.

Corvallis MSA (Benton County) — slight, imperceptible, decline.

Eugene-Springfield MSA (Lane County) — slight, less than 1 percent, decline.

Medford MSA (Jackson County) — up 1.1 percent.

Bend MSA (Deschutes County) — up 12.8 percent!

“Resilient” is not the word to use for these other areas; “stagnant” is a more accurate description.

Bend's wide lead in employment growth over the past decade is further reflected in data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which reports that from 2001 to 2011 the compound annual growth rate of Bend was 14 times that of Medford, 10 times that of Eugene-Springfield, nearly four times that of Portland and two and a half times that of Corvallis.

Looking at another measure of the vibrancy of an economy, Bend also outshines its sister cities in the emergence of new businesses. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, from 2001 to 2011 the total number of business units changed as follows:

Corvallis MSA (Benton County) — up 11.5 percent.

Eugene-Springfield MSA (Lane County) — up 8.1 percent.

Medford MSA (Jackson County) — up 16.3 percent.

Bend MSA (Deschutes County) — up 31.2 percent!

Remarkable. Despite the effect of the recent downturn in Bend, the number of businesses has still grown by nearly one-third.

So, the situation is quite clear. Even after the set-back of the recent recession, the economy of Bend has grown considerably beyond where it was a decade ago and to a greater degree than the other Oregon urban areas to which the authors compared it.

Unlike those fellows over in Eugene sitting in that obfuscating fog of the beautiful Willamette Valley, the people of Bend and most Oregonians have a clear accurate picture of Bend's economy.

One of the reasons Bend is growing so strongly, particularly attracting a plethora of scientific and high tech firms, is the effective coordinating process by organizations fostering economic growth — exactly what the authors failed to see as reflected in their closing paragraphs.