Medford area makes, keeps fewer jobs

Medford and Jackson County created fewer new jobs and continued to lose existing jobs during the past year, along with most of Oregon's major population centers.

The Milken Institute, a nonprofit California-based economic think tank, reported the Medford Statistical Area fell from No. 39 to No. 54 among 124 small cities in creating and sustaining jobs over the past five years. Bend, Eugene and Portland areas also dropped in the ratings, while Salem advanced.

The Medford Statistical Area includes all of Jackson County. Short- and long-term job growth, income and high-tech activity were all factored into the ratings, the report said.

Kevin Klowden, managing economist for the Milken Institute, said the numbers need to be viewed in perspective because each year's rating is based on performance over the past five years.

"Despite not doing as well as a few years ago, Medford still ranks 54th," Klowden said. "The real issue is that job growth has definitely been slipping over the past couple of years."

Klowden said the good news down the road for Southern Oregon is Medford's concentration of high-tech industries.

"When the numbers come out from 2008-2009, they're still not going to be great," he said, "but it's clear that Medford appears to be running ahead of the curve. It's got a slightly more diverse high-tech industry. With six different high-tech industries out of a potential 18, Medford's concentration is higher than the national average."

Bend has nine such industries, he said. Only Cambridge, Mass., home of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, has all 18 high-tech industries on the list.

For the five years from 2003 to 2008, high-tech industries' contribution to the Medford area's gross domestic product made it No. 18 among small metropolitan areas, although that figure slipped to No. 70 for 2007-2008.

Klowden said cities with broader-based tech industries generally have stronger job markets. When the recession runs its course, the more diverse tech industries a community has, the more likely it is that it will revive rapidly.

"But if a tech industry leaves altogether, you don't get them back," Klowden said. "I've been talking to people in Winston-Salem, N.C., and one of the looming issues there is the loss of a Dell (computer) factory. There are job losses that are part of the recession, and then there is just losing an industry. With Bend and Medford, there doesn't appear to be industries disappearing. It's just part of the recession."

Wage and salary growth in Medford, which ranked No. 32 for the five-year period ending in 2007, slipped to No. 51 in the most recent year (2007) where data was available.

"The economies of scale are such that in smaller communities the loss of one industry has a bigger impact," Klowden said. "The bigger the town, the less impact there is going to be."

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