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Tourism up when gas prices down

Jackson County employers have created 2,850 jobs since this time a year ago.

The region's medical and retail communities, which have been go-to sectors for jobs coming out of the Great Recession, continued to grow, and a recent dip in gas prices helped boost tourism-related employment. During the past 12 months, employment here grew by 3.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

While Jackson County still has 2,450 fewer employed workers than at the height of the pre-recession economy in 2007, one sector that has picked up steam in the past year is leisure and hospitality. It had 550 more jobs last month than in August 2014 and 700 more positions than its pre-recession peak, said Guy Tauer, regional economist with Oregon's Employment Department.

"Part of that is due to consumer confidence," Tauer said. "Lower gas prices mean people are eating out more. Restaurants and hotels are busier and hiring more people. Tourism is really benefiting from the improved general economy. People are confident in their job prospects, so they are spending more money, and lower gas prices mean more disposable income. All of that benefits food service, leisure and hospitality businesses."

While the recession and retirement have kept Jackson County's labor force smaller than 100,000, those looking for jobs have had more success.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the seasonally adjusted jobless rate declined to 7.3 percent in August from 7.4 percent in July, and was down from 8.6 percent a year ago.

Tauer cautions the BLS figures are estimates based on samples that are more clearly stated each quarter. Nonetheless, agriculture and self-employment have boosted employment this summer.

"Agricultural employment tends to rise in July and August," Tauer said. "So our pear and grape harvests were contributing factors."

He was unsure what effect the Rogue Valley's smoke-filled skies had in August.

"We'll have to wait until we see more detailed data," Tauer said. "All those impacts don't show up in the monthly sample-based data. Certainly, Josephine County was affected, because leisure and hospitality slipped by more than 50 jobs (from July to August). In terms of river activity, the combination of smoke and lower water levels had an impact, but it's all conjecture at this point."

During August, retail trade had the largest gain, growing 220 jobs, indicating stores were making an early move to secure employees for the holiday season.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.