Local job growth negates Woodgrain layoffs

Year over year increase in employment exceeds job losses of Prineville plant

Photo Credit: JASON CHANEY - Stafford Inn manager Laurie Romine checks in two customers. The leisure and hospitality industry has seen consistent job growth this past year.

Prineville was rocked this past November by the sudden layoff of more than 200 Woodgrain Millwork employees.

The move, which preceded the holiday season and came on the heels of steady job growth, was expected to significantly affect unemployment in Crook County. While that proved true in the December unemployment rate, which rose to 10.5 percent from 10.2 percent in November, it wasn’t enough to prevent a year-over-year increase in jobs.

While wood product manufacturing declined by 60 jobs from December 2013 to December 2014, overall growth increased during the same time period by a modest 30 jobs.

“I was surprised,” said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon’s regional economist for Oregon Employment Department. “It thought for sure when we saw the layoff hit that we would have pretty significant year-over-year losses. I thought it would just wipe out the gains that we saw.”

Runberg acknowledged that the year-to-year job gains were negligible, but stressed that prior to the Woodgrain layoffs, Crook County was enjoying steady growth like many other communities in the region.

“A lot of the slow recovering industries (such as manufacturing and construction) were doing well,” he said.

The catalyst for the improvement, Runberg believes, is the improved housing market throughout Central Oregon, which has boosted the demand for wood products. In addition, tourism has picked up, with Bend initially seeing growth in 2012 that trickled down to Prineville in 2013.

“A lot more attention has been paid to the Ochocos,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the data center industry continues to slowly produce local family-wage jobs.

“That has been in the back, continually moving forward,” Runberg stated.

The most significant growth in 2014 came from the transportation, warehousing and utilities industry, the employment department reported. Such growth, Runberg said, bodes well for the Crook County economy even though it may not necessarily correlate to job growth in other industries.

“More than anything, it means there is more commerce,” he said. “There is more activity, so that is a good indicator about how things are moving.”

He explained that a company could ramp up production, but not make any additional hires, opting instead to perhaps increase hours or add more shifts.

“The jobs numbers won’t pick that up.”

No public data exists to determine how many displaced Woodgrain workers have found new employment. However, Runberg believes that people looking for work can expect the job market to pick up steam in upcoming months.

“It’s still the slow time of year,” he said. “The prospects will really start to accelerate this spring.”

Meanwhile, the future of the Woodgrain facility remains unknown. City and county officials are trying to encourage the company to repair and reopen the plant, but so far management has not announced any plans. As those efforts continue, Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester has stated on multiple occasions that other undisclosed businesses have shown interest in purchasing and operating the facility.

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