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Oregon's economic growth to slow down

Wire and staff reports

PORTLAND-- Oregon's period of economic growth will continue next year, but at a much slower rate, according to a regional forecast released Wednesday.

The state's wage and salary employment growth is expected to continue at a rate of 1.8 percent -- ahead of Washington state -- for the year 2000, said John Mitchell, a U.S. Bank economist. That's slower than Oregon's 2 percent this year, and an average of 4 percent for the past three years.

The last time we had this kind of rapid growth was in the 1970s, and it was followed by a total economic collapse, said Mitchell, author of the report. This time, we have transitioned to a lower growth rate without going through a collapse.

Signs of weaknesses in the economy already have begun to show, he said. The technology sector is in the process of bottoming out. The timber harvest reached its lowest level in 72 years in 1998. And in the past year, reports show a decline in residential building permits.

The state's healthy economy reflects a 105-month period of record expansion nationwide. Other key factors include an environment of low inflation, reductions in marginal tax rates and trade barriers, and good fiscal policy, Mitchell said.

While the job market has been in turmoil -- with reports of some companies cutting positions -- the net effect across the country has been an increase in available jobs.

In Jackson County, Gordon Safley, executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., says the picture for Southern Oregon is similar.

We've got the low unemployment rate now, he says. It was 4.8 percent in October, compared to 5.7 percent a year earlier.

The Jackson County/Medford area is a retail and medical center.

I think we're not so different from the national economy, which is a swing to service and retail development, he said.

In Washington, a down cycle in the aerospace industry will continue to drag on the state's economy. But growth in the high-tech industry is expected to continue next year, contributing to an overall employment growth rate of 1.3 percent, down from 2 percent this year.

As for signs of a nationwide slowdown, it doesn't look like it will happen in the near future.

I don't think the business cycle is dead, Mitchell said. There's another downturn there somewhere, but I don't know when it's going to be and all the signs that point to a downturn just aren't there.