Retail and local education employment led the way as Jackson County's public and private payroll grew by more than 1,000 jobs in August.

Retail and local education employment led the way as Jackson County's public and private payroll grew by more than 1,000 jobs in August.

The Oregon Employment Department reported the jobless rate fell to 5.7 percent last month, lower than July's 6.1 percent mark and the 5.8 percent reported in August 2006. During the past 12 months, county employment grew 2 percent, adding 1,640 jobs.

Retail employers added 610 more workers in August, while local education added 100.

"Retail trade spikes earlier here than a lot of other areas," said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. "We get a boost in September when the others don't ramp up until October, November or December."

That's because large retailers such as Harry & David and smaller players like Rising Sun Farms sell through multiple channels, such as the Internet and catalogs.

"We have employers that do more than sell goods," Tauer said. "They take orders, package and distribute; they have more facets of trade than just a storefront. They tend to ramp up sooner than a mall retailer, where people are doing last-minute shopping for family and friends who are local."

Medford Sears store manager Mike Beugli said a strong back-to-school season led to more staffing, and anticipated sales this fall are creating the need for more help as well.

"In general, there's a little more competition this year — more so than last year," Beugli said. "The big drivers were appliances and electronics, and the automotive department experienced a really strong revenue increase. We worked hard to staff up for those areas."

He said Sears has boosted inventory for apparel and home fashion going into the fall.

"We have brought in more merchandise than we have in a long time," he said.

Tauer anticipated retail employment will continue to accelerate when September figures are compiled, taking in the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Eagle Point.

Construction employment grew by 100 jobs in August, and perhaps reached its 2007 peak with building permits now in seasonal decline. In Jackson County, construction jobs are essentially unchanged from August 2006.

"When you look at the neighboring counties, the job growth in Jackson County has been remarkably strong," Tauer said. "Josephine County was barely over zero percent growth. A lot of the industries that benefitted from the housing boom were growing fast during boom times. But they've taken a hit during the last downturn.

"Josephine and Curry construction employment totals have fallen from the same period last year. With the Southern Oregon University/Rogue Community College building, a new Cascade Christian High School campus and work on the south Medford interchange and other projects going on, it has mitigated the softness of the residential sector."

Another one of Jackson County's advantages is the additional health service job creation many rural counties don't see.

Health care and social assistance employment jumped by 130 over the month — 310 more jobs than in August 2006.

Manufacturing employment showed no gain in August, but remains 440 jobs ahead of where it was a year ago.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at business@mailtribune.com