In the “Great Recession,” Eugene is doing better than the nation, the state or the county. Why?
Mayor Kitty Piercy noted in her State of the City address last week that while local unemployment numbers are still “way too high,” Eugene’s 10.5 percent rate is slightly better than the nation at 10.8 percent, the state at 12.7 percent and the county at 12.8 percent.
The comparative employment advantage of Eugene over the nation represents a big turnaround. A decade ago the unemployment rate in Eugene was about a third higher than the nation, although both numbers were about half of today’s unemployment rates.
So why is Eugene now doing better than the nation at providing jobs? Buried in a 200-page just-released audited annual financial report on the city, a section analyzing the local economy offers an explanation.
The report notes that government jobs and people moving here, mostly from California, have historically provided “the two pillars” that have kept Eugene’s economy relatively stable. In the recession the in-migration that helped Eugene diversify away from logging has slowed significantly, but public sector jobs have grown.
From 2001 to 2009 government jobs increased 12 percent in Eugene, largely due to the UO, according to the financial report. The UO has a record enrollment approaching 24,000, provides 4,000 local jobs and has an estimated economic impact on the local economy of $1.97 billion.
While dwindling in-migration and the mortgage crisis have cut jobs in building housing, government construction has helped mitigate the unemployment impact. The report lists recent UO projects including the $200 million Matt Knight Arena completed a year ago, a $65 million science building now under way and a $72 million new residence hall scheduled for completion this fall.
The city of Eugene has also spurred construction downtown by subsidizing projects including: a $55 million LCC classroom and dorm building across from the library, and three new office, retail and apartment buildings and remodels at Broadway and Willamette, the report notes.
Additional employment has come from the growth of Eugene as a regional healthcare provider with a 24 percent increase in health jobs since 2001, the financial report said. Also, railroad projects including plans by Union Pacific to spend $34 million to improve the Eugene rail yard and rail line to Oakridge provide even more jobs.
So what about all the local conservatives that bash Eugene as bad for business? They’re wrong.
Ward Beck emailed the mayor last month blaming the city for a GMAC call center leaving his building. Beck sold the building on Country Club Road to the city for a new police station. But he wrote, the city has a “very myopic view that quality of life will always trump a business-friendly environment.”
Jack Roberts, a former Republican candidate for governor who now runs the job-recruiting Lane Metro Partnership, emailed back disputing Beck’s claims. Roberts noted that GMAC didn’t complain about the business climate and said they were leaving for the Philippines for cheaper labor, similar to other companies that have left the area. “It has not been my experience that businesses who are here are leaving because of the local business climate,” Roberts wrote.