The conflict between idyllic desires and the ability to house and feed families is accentuated in places such as Southern Oregon during difficult financial times.

The conflict between idyllic desires and the ability to house and feed families is accentuated in places such as Southern Oregon during difficult financial times.

When unemployment rates stay high and the demand for goods and services rises grudgingly, economists such as University of Oregon professor Tim Duy find trends are easier to discover than answers.

"How do we foster a healthy community from both a livability and business perspective?" Duy asked rhetorically before addressing the ninth annual Southern Oregon Business Conference Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel. "Those are on both sides of the equation. We may want to make near-term changes, but they will always be part of the economic landscape."

Jackson County has suffered through double-digit unemployment for nearly 40 months, housing starts that fueled much of the local activity before 2007 are weak, and high fuel costs hit personal and corporate bottom lines.

"A lot of communities are seeing numbers that don't feel good," Duy said. "It isn't a reflection on those places because there are many areas that are struggling. What it does is limit how quickly they can recover."

Economic development can resolve the challenges those communities face, Duy said.

During his presentation he suggested natural resources can play a role in the region's recovery.

"We need to unlock the log jam in the national forests," he said. "There is more room for agreement than we've allowed for. At the same time, it's not a miracle cure for recovery. We're not building as many houses and there's not the need for wood that there will be sometime in the future."

Asked about the impact of the election year on the economy, Duy noted spending usually increases when politicians are up for re-election. But austerity is on many minds this year.

"For better or worse, government spending has been propping up part of the economy," he said.

Duy compiles the Oregon Index of Economic Indicators and has expanded his findings to include regional breakdowns. On Thursday he unveiled a Southern Oregon Index. It wasn't pretty, and Duy admits to wearing the "Doctor Doom" moniker as a result of his findings.

Pitted against the Portland Metropolitan Area, Lane County, Bend and Salem, the Rogue Valley trailed all four when comparing everything from employment measures, lodging taxes and airport passengers to municipal waste.

"Overall, we're looking at relatively weak growth," Duy said.

There are challenges in creating a highly localized economic index, he admitted. There are two big stumbling blocks: Availability of local data versus state and national resources, and the volatility of local data.

"There are fewer regional indicators available and that requires more leg work," Duy said.

"There is a lot more month-to-month volatility, so the data is not as clean and smooth. You have to find mechanisms to wade through the volatility, so we look at six-month moving averages."

Components that reveal economic cycles over time are most helpful. Duy lamented not having manufacturing data that would sharpen the economic image.

"New orders tend to be something cyclical," he said. "It's something on the order books, but there is no way to aggregate the numbers."

He said the regional indices will change over time, adding new components.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.