Deschutes County gained more jobs in February over the same period last year, led by a strong construction industry, robust tourism and a demand for professionals, according to the state employment numbers.

What that means for the county is that the economy is growing, even in the winter months, which traditionally see some job losses, said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon economist for the Oregon Employment Department.

Employment levels remained up significantly from a year ago with businesses adding 3,270 jobs in February, Runberg said in his report. The year-over-year rate of job growth was 4.2 percent. Deschutes county’s rate of job growth has hovered around 3 percent to 4 percent for most of the past year, he reported.

“This implies that our long-term trend is that we’re a growing economy,” Runberg said. “We’ve seen bigger gains than what we’d typically expect and fewer losses in the winter months. We saw far fewer job losses in the winter months.”

Driving the narrative is the strength of the construction industry, Runberg said. The mild winter and the demand for new homes, remodeling and hotel construction all are working together to fuel a broad swath of growth, he said.

“Everyone is busy. That’s a constant theme,” said Karna Gustafson, Central Oregon Builders Association vice president of government affairs. “It doesn’t surprise me. There’s not enough labor and not enough subcontractors.”

The tourism industry also saw seasonally adjusted growth in the accommodation and food service category, which added 650 more jobs in February, compared to a year ago, according to the report.

That’s not news for Sam Johnson, general manager at the Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend, who said that the first three months of the year have been strong for the boutique hotel.

“We didn’t really cut back our staff,” Johnson said. “As a (AAA) Four-Diamond, boutique hotel, we maintain a certain level of employees. We’ll start ramping up for summer soon.”

The total unemployment rate in Deschutes County was 4.3 percent, up slightly from 3.7 percent in February 2017.

The story is pretty much the same in Crook County, where the February unemployment rate was 6 percent, unchanged from 6.2 percent a year ago.

Jefferson County’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in February, compared to 5.7 percent a year ago.

Thirteen Oregon’s counties reported unemployment rates at or below the statewide or national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, according to the report.

“You can’t put your thumb on any one thing driving our economy,” Runberg said. “This means we’ll be less vulnerable to shocks that can cause a recession.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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