The 50 largest Central Oregon companies in terms of number of workers employ more than 21,000 people, about 19 percent of the workforce, according to new data released by Economic Development for Central Oregon.

The lion’s share of Central Oregonians, about 78 percent, work in companies that employ nine or fewer employees, according to the annual data collected by the nonprofit corporation. Companies averaged 11 employees in 2018.

“The vast majority of Oregonians are employed in a small business,” said Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Department regional economist.

“In Central Oregon we have a handful of very important large firms who are stabilizing forces in our economy and support many families across the region.”

The large number of small firms is good for the economy and shows diversification, Runberg said.

The number of employees local businesses have has been collected for the past 20 years and is used to paint an economic picture to lure new business to the area, said Roger Lee, Economic Development for Central Oregon CEO.

Over the years, Central Oregon has been home to large employers, but economic cycles and changes in business trends have affected the marketplace, Lee said.

“It’s an interesting dichotomy,” Lee said. “The majority of our companies are small in our region.”

The largest employer in the area, St. Charles Health System, actually shed nearly 300 jobs from 2017 to 2018. Lee said that was from attrition and layoffs. In the past 10 years the facility has doubled the number of hospitals it runs and operates, expanded its services and grown its medical group to more than 200 doctors. It now employs more than 4,000.

“Facing flat to declining revenues last year, St. Charles had to take a number of cost-saving measures, including offering buy-out packages to 72 caretakers and laying off another 30,” said Lisa Goodman, St. Charles Health System public information officer, in an email. “We also put in place a strategic hiring council that scrutinizes every open position to determine whether it should be filled or if there is an opportunity to restructure the work.”

The second-largest employer in the region is Sunriver Resorts, a Destination Hotel, which added 100 new jobs from 2017 to 2018, according to the survey, and now employs 1,100.

As the tourism industry heads into the peak summer season, more temporary jobs will be added at the resort, said Molly Johnson, Sunriver Resorts director of marketing communications.

“Each year we continue to see positive growth in the number of visitors coming to Sunriver Resort to enjoy everything the area has to offer,” Johnson said in an email. “Central Oregon’s strong tourism and economy can definitely be attributed to our continued strength as a year-round destination.”

Runberg said in an email that even though more than three-quarters of the workforce is employed in small businesses, those companies have the ability to grow and become a large business.

“The growth of these small businesses will lead to new specialties and spin-offs,” Runberg said.

“One-time small businesses like Deschutes Brewery and Bend Research not only became major employers, but they helped to lead the way for our brewing and bio-science sectors.”

Deschutes Brewery ranked 17 on the list of top 50 businesses in Central Oregon, and pharmaceutical biotech firm Bend Research Lonza is No. 15, according to the chart provided by EDCO.

— Reporter: 541-633-2117,