Nothing but the width of the Willamette River separates Linn and Benton counties geographically. Economically, though, the two Oregon counties are faring quite differently, reflecting the state’s uneven recovery from the recession as well as structural changes in the economy that have been in the making for a couple of decades.
As the Great Recession took hold, more than 2,000 jobs disappeared from Benton County, while more than 5,000 went away in Linn.
But on the strength of hiring at Oregon State University and two medical organizations, Benton County returned to its prerecession employment levels last fall, the Albany Democrat-Herald reports.
For the first time, Benton has more people working than its neighbor to the east, even though Linn’s workforce is 10,000 larger.
Linn is still down almost 5,200 jobs. Its larger, more diverse and more cyclical industrial base has taken hits in wood products, metals refining, paper, chemicals and food processing.
The county has suffered from the long-term decline in the timber and wood products industries and recent setbacks to aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, which hurt local metals refiners, said economic development leader John Pascone.
“We get the ol’ double whammy when the economy hits those sectors of aerospace and lumber,” he said. Pascone hopes improvement in the national economy will bring back jobs in those sectors.
Regional economist Pat O’Connor of the state Employment Department said Oregon State and its 10,000 jobs have “a huge stabilizing effect” on the local economy — about one in four people with jobs in Benton County works there.
As the job market tightened in the recession, young people entered college rather than the workforce and laid-off workers went back to school, sparking a hiring boom.
In Linn County, by contrast, government employment is down, offsetting recent modest gains in private employment, O’Connor said.
The new economic development manager for the city of Corvallis and Benton County, Tom Nelson, said he’s happy to see university and medical hiring. But the numbers include part-time student positions and low-wage service jobs as well as higher-earning college professors and doctors, he said.
Benton County has had its share of manufacturing cutbacks over the years. The Corvallis campus of Hewlett-Packard Co., the hub of its ink-jet printer business, has shrunk from more than 7,000 direct employees in the late 1990s to fewer than 2,000 now.
“The restoration of the manufacturing sector is still our goal,” Nelson said.
Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com