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County unemployment rate drops

Part of the happy news is seasonal, but it's good news for the region's economy

Mail Tribune

It's too early to say Jackson County has left its economic downturn in the dust, but employment figures compiled by the state show that more people found jobs in April.

In fact, the county's 7.3 percent unemployment rate was merely 0.8 percent higher than the April 2001 figure of 6.5 percent. The March figure was 8.5 percent.

"Generally speaking, January, February and March are the months when we have the highest unemployment rate," says employment department economist Guy Tauer. "Restaurants and hotels pick up, Shakespeare starts kicking in and construction begins picking up. Agricultural work, the orchards, all those things tend to lower the unemployment rate."

Another sign of improved job opportunities was increased activity at personnel and temporary agencies.

"That's a sign of turnaround when companies hire temporary help to bring up production levels," Tauer said. "It's a precursor to adding permanent employment."

The county's unemployment rate was 0.2 percent lower than the statewide seasonally adjusted figure of 7.5 percent. Josephine County's April jobless rate was 8.6 percent, well below the 10.2 percent registered in March, but higher than April 2001's 8 percent.

Jackson County's nonfarm payroll employment gained 620 jobs, up 70 over April of 2001. Several sectors of the local economy - manufacturing, trade, and services - all showed gains.

Warmer weather, continued population growth, and low interest rates contributed to an increase of 180 construction jobs for the month.

"We've seen a lot of construction activity on the upper end of McAndrews (Road)," Tauer said.

Health care, a major component in the county's employment, saw a year-over-year gain of 350 jobs. Despite a monthly loss of 20 jobs, social services have seen a gain of 340 positions in the past year to care for the ever-growing retirement, assisted-living and Alzheimer's communities, as well as child care.

State employment within the county has been flat, while local government and education have seen significant declines, as has federal employment.

Manufacturing employment increased in many sectors from March. Lumber and wood products employment added 30 jobs for the month, and grew by 90 since April 2001. A gain of 40 in other wood products and 10 in veneer and plywood were offset by a loss of 20 in logging and sawmill jobs in April. Other durable goods manufacturing increased by 120 over the month, but is still down by 350 from April of last year.

While transportation has fallen off by 400 jobs statewide in the past year, that sector has shown a gain of 30 in Jackson County.

Tauer said the recent e-commerce zone designation for the Medford area will help long-term expansion.

"There have been some companies just waiting for that to happen," Tauer said.

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