Editor’s note: The Bulletin has partnered with the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences and Department of Economics to produce the Central Oregon Business Index. The index provides a regular snapshot of the region’s economy using economic models consistent with national standards. The index, exclusive to The Bulletin, appears quarterly on Sundays.

Fueled by new jobs, home sales and tourism, Central Oregon’s economy grew again in the first quarter of 2018, the Central Oregon Business Index shows.

The index rose for the seventh consecutive quarter to 145.7, up less than 1 percentage point from the fourth quarter of 2017.

Compared with the first quarter of 2017, the index is up 4.1 percent.

“Things are continuing to look strong in the region,” said Tim Duy, economics professor at the University of Oregon and author of the Central Oregon Business Index. The index, which covers Deschutes County, comprises nine variables and is measured against a benchmark of 100 in 1998.

Central Oregon benefits from a nationwide economic expansion now in its ninth year. Nevertheless, the fact that the region continues to make gains is impressive, said Duy, who is also director of the Oregon Economic Forum. Central Oregon firms added 900 jobs in the first quarter, and employment was 4.7 percent higher than a year ago, he said.

“You’re in a mature stage of this expansion, and you’re still growing jobs at over 3 percent,” Duy said. “That’s a pretty solid pace.”

Several components of the index, which is adjusted for seasonal variations, showed growth. There were 497 homes sold in the first quarter, which continued the recent pace of 450 to 500 homes sold per quarter.

Lodging revenue was $2.86 million, up from $2.8 million in the fourth quarter.

High housing prices do not seem to be creating a drag on the economy, Duy said. Instead of making it impossible to find or hire workers, thus slowing firms’ growth, the situation will probably result in more people living farther away from Bend, he said.

That’s evident in the way southern Deschutes County and La Pine have grown. U.S. Census data shows an average of 2,500 people a day from the greater La Pine ZIP code commuted for work in 2015, and that was up from 1,700 in 2014, said Ryan Culp, Sunriver/La Pine area director at Economic Development for Central Oregon.

La Pine City Manager Cory Misley has noticed in the past year that the park-and-ride lot at Wickiup Junction and the parking area near the entrance to Newberry National Volcanic Monument off U.S. Highway 97 are full of cars during the day as more people are carpooling to work.

Around Central Oregon, there are more commuters on the highways, but the percentage of people who live and work in Bend has actually increased from less than half in 2010 to 53 percent in 2015, said Tyler Deke, manager of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“We have by far the highest percentage of people who live and work in their same community,” Deke said.

Redmond has also seen an increase in the share of people working where they live, from 28 percent to 33 percent, Deke said.

La Pine recognizes that most of its residents are commuting and is trying to make that easier for them, Misley said. The city is in the process of creating a permanent bus stop and park-and-ride lot near the center of town, he said. City officials have also impressed upon the Oregon Department of Transportation that U.S. Highway 97 needs improvement south of Sun­river to La Pine.

“Talking with people, that’s one of the biggest things I hear — that drive between Bend and La Pine is dangerous,” Misley said.

While it’s obvious that a lot of people are moving to La Pine because it’s what they can afford, the city is also trying to make it a place that people would choose to live otherwise, Misley said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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