Oregon economy grows

Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin Published May 14, 2013 at 05:00AM

Oregon’s economic growth in the first quarter continued to outpace the national economy — except when it comes to creating jobs, according to a report released today.

Going forward, the report from California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research & Forecasting predicts more jobs, higher wages and overall growth at “phenomenal rates.”

“This forecast is the most optimistic we’ve ever issued for Oregon,” wrote Bill Watkins, the center’s executive director. The center’s first Oregon report was issued in 2010.

A flourishing technology sector increased Oregon’s gross domestic product 3.4 percent in the first quarter, the report said. GDP for the nation as a whole rose 2.5 percent in the same period, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Oregon’s GDP has risen more than 20 percent over the last three years, yet employment has grown just 4 percent, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

The state added more than 22,000 jobs between March 2012 and March 2013. But it’s still about 77,000 jobs down from late 2007 levels, and Watkins called the decline in Oregon’s labor force “disturbing.” It had declined by more than 43,000 workers in March, compared with March 2012, state figures show.

Still, the year started with some solid national job gains, increased homebuilding activity and higher retail sales — all of which bode well for the economy over the next few years, said Ralph Cole, senior vice president of research with Portland financial consulting firm Ferguson Wellman Capital Management.

Some of the state’s biggest companies are making aggressive growth plans, he noted, a big departure from the first few years of the downturn.

“You’re seeing companies like Nike making continued investments in Portland and Beaverton, Intel continuing to grow,” Cole said. “Companies are making decisions, signing leases. They’re still slow to add employees, but layoffs have really slowed.”

Permits for new homes in Oregon have risen to their highest levels since before the 2008 real estate crash, the California Lutheran University report shows. Foreclosures have slowed, though they’re still a drag on the market.

The report goes on to forecast expected growth moving forward all the way to 2015. It predicts state GDP to increase 13 percent over the next two years, retail sales to go up more than 14 percent and total wages to rise 16 percent.