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Rogue Valley retailers rake it in

MT file photo

Jackson County retail sales trail only Portland, Eugene, Salem areas

Any lingering doubts that the Rogue Valley is a retail hub can safely be put to rest.

New government data show Jackson County's retail sales during 1997 totaled just under $2.1 billion, and the county ranked well above national and state averages for sales per capita -- an indication that retail plays an especially prominent role.

That comes as no surprise to those who track the area's economy.

It's a huge part of our economy, says Gordon Safley of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. Safley says retail is likely to continue growing as long as we remain a center for people who retire or move here for the quality of life. Retail follows the need in the population.

And Jackson County residents are far from the only people who shop here.

One of the things that makes it more significant is that we get a large portion of sales from out of the area or even out of the state, says Bill Haas of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

We're not a huge city but we are all that's around, says Jeff Barber, general manager of the Rogue Valley Mall. This is the hub for all of Southern Oregon and even Northern California.

Jackson County ranked sixth in retail sales among Oregon's 36 counties -- behind the five that include the Portland area, Salem and Eugene. It outpaced seventh-ranked Deschutes County by more than $700 million. Josephine County ranked 11th with sales of $590 million.

The data shows $12,158 in sales for each person who lived in Jackson County in 1997. The state per capita figure was $10,297, and the national mark was $9,179. Only two Oregon counties, Washington and Deschutes, had higher per capita figures.

The data were recently released as one of the first reports from the 1997 Economic Census by the U.S. Census Bureau. The economic census is done every five years.

However, meaningful comparisons between the 1997 data and 1992 figures are difficult because there have been significant changes in how businesses are classified, according to Robert Marske of the U.S. Census Bureau. Restaurant sales, for example, have been moved into a category called accommodation and food service.

Since comparisons are essential to tracking trends, Marske says the bureau plans to plug the 1997 data into the 1992 classifications and release it next spring.

Data are not yet available for every industry, but a look at some others in Jackson County underscores retail's prominence. Receipts for health care and social assistance, for example, totaled $510 million. The total sales for the accommodation and food services industry were $205 million.

Medford, not surprisingly, is far and away the county's leading retail city with more than $1.3 billion in sales. Ashland ranks a distant second among the cities with $101 million in sales.

The census bureau provides specific information only on cities larger than 2,500 people, so detailed information on places such as Jacksonville, Gold Hill, Rogue River and Shady Cove isn't available. Those cities are lumped into a rest of county figure.

That figure, which totaled $535.5 million in retail sales, includes businesses in unincorporated areas, which may account for part of its size. The census bureau can't release information on specific companies, but the region's largest retailer, mail-order giant Bear Creek Corp., is outside Medford's city limits.

Nonstore retailing (mail order, electronic shopping and direct selling) made up nearly $413.8 million -- or just under 20 percent -- of the county's total. That ranked second among sectors to motor vehicle and parts dealers, whose sales totaled $452 million or just under 22 percent.

Other key sectors included general merchandise stores ($354 million), food and beverage stores ($246.7 million), building materials and garden equipment ($167 million) and gas stations ($147.5 million).

Retail shoppers in stores such as Kay Bee Toys in the Rogue Valley Mall helped boost Jackson County's total retail sales to more than $2 billion in 1997 -- more than $12,000 for every county resident. The data indicate the Rogue Valley is a retail hub for a much larger area.