Deschutes County maintained a low unemployment rate in January, 4.1 percent, despite big growth in the labor force over the past year, the Oregon Employment Department reported Tuesday.

Central Oregon Regional Economist Damon Runberg said that’s because the region’s population continues to grow quickly, and people are moving here with a job in hand. “We’ve seen the raw number of unemployed shrink over the course of the last year,” he said. “It’s mostly the employed side that’s ballooned up.”

The Deschutes County workforce grew by about 4,500 people, or 5 percent, over the past year. The January unemployment rate was not significantly different than 4.6 percent a year ago.

The pace of job growth slowed to an average 3 percent in 2017, Runberg said. That was confirmed by a review of payroll records, which are more complete than the survey of businesses behind monthly jobs numbers, he said.

In January, the number of jobs in Deschutes County spiked up 4.9 percent, compared with the prior year. The construction industry added the most jobs and posted the fastest growth rate, 16.5 percent.

This winter’s mild weather could explain the January jobs spike, but Runberg believes those numbers will be revised downward.

Nevertheless, construction continues to be the biggest source of job growth in Deschutes County. The industry averaged 8 percent job growth in 2017 and saw almost no seasonal decline last fall, Runberg said.

Thomas Hunziker, owner of AM-1 Roofing in Bend, said he anticipates hiring people this year, but he doesn’t expect to grow the firm in a major way because the construction-­labor shortage is so severe. “We just try to control the workload rather than building and building,” he said. “We used to have over 100 people. Now we’re at 50. We can’t seem to really grow.”

Central Oregon’s rural areas are also seeing growth. Jefferson County was in the top third of rural Oregon counties for job growth through most of last year, Runberg said. That was led by manufacturing, which added 100 jobs — 9 percent growth — in 2017. The leisure and hospitality industry, driven by tourism to Cove Palisades State Park, Lake Billy Chinook and the Metolius River, has also added jobs in Jefferson County.

The January unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, essentially unchanged from 6 percent a year ago.

Crook County’s unemployment rate was also unchanged from a year ago at 6.2 percent.

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

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