Next year residents of Douglas County should see continued low unemployment, a strong housing market for homeowners offset by a shortage of affordable housing and a relatively steady forest products industry, a panel of experts said this week at the Economic Forecast 2020. However, looming over all discussions on the economy is the possibility of a recession next year.

Thursday’s event was organized by the Roseburg Area chamber of Commerce and held at the Douglas County fairgrounds. About 50 people attended. The event featured five prognosticators, each of whom discussed the local and statewide economic landscape and made some predictions for 2020.

Following are the highlights of each of their presentations.

Economist John Tapogna said Oregon has benefited by unprecedented growth since the Great Recession more than a decade ago, and while that has resulted in record-low unemployment, it also raises the very real chance of a recession in 2020.

“This is a fascninating time to be discussing the economy, we’re in historic times,” Tapogna said. “This is the eleventh straight year of economic expansion in Oregon and that’s never happened. We are now in unchartered waters.”

While Tapogna acknowledged that economists have a “terrible” track record when it comes to making predictions about a possible recession, he said there is a one in three chance that the nation will experience one in 2020. And if the nation does see a recession next year, Oregon will feel it more than other states, he said.

“We tend to boom more and bust more than other places. But if we do go into a recession it will be nothing near what we saw in 2006-07,” Tapogna said.

Jeremy Rodgers, Political Advocacy Director for the Oregon Association of Realtors, said the median home sale price in Douglas County increased by 18% in 2018 and 19% this year.

Part of that steady increase is due to a decrease in the number of homes being listed for sale, he said. Home sale listings are down 20% from a year ago, he said, and the available inventory of homes for sale is currently at 3.5 months, well under the 6 months that is considered the standard.

“You can see a general trend towards much lower inventory, which means you will continue to see prices go up,” Rodgers said.

That squeeze of higher prices, population growth and less inventory is making it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing, he said. And people in the state know that; in a recent statewide survey asking people what the biggies issues facing Oregon are, #1 was homelessness and #3 was affordable housing, Rodgers said.

“We’re growing and we’re not keeping up with enough housing,” he said, adding that one-third of families in Oregon are considered housing burdened, which means they are paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs. “The largest problem with the housing market in the state of Oregon is the lack of supply.”

Nick Beleiciks, an economist with the Oregon Employment Office, said despite a steady growth in the population every year unemployment still remains at record lows. The state unemployment rate is 4.1% and it is 5.4% in Douglas County. Oregon added 24,000 jobs in the last 12 months and Douglas County added 370 jobs during that period, he said.

“We’re seeing slower growth than a few years ago but still job growth, showing that we’re not in a recession now and employers are still trying to hire,” he said.

The state is seeing job growth across the spectrum, particularly in the health care, social assistance and manufacturing sectors, Beleiciks said. The one sector where job losses are occurring is in retail, which saw 3,900 job losses in the last 12 months he said.

Possible reasons for the retail job losses include a higher minimum wage, more people shopping online and workers who would normally take retail jobs getting better paid ones, he said.

Heath Heikkila, Director of Government Affairs for the American Forest Resource Council, said that despite constant battles with federal agencies and regulators over forest products practices, the industry remains strong and especially critical to rural communities like Douglas County.

The county covers 3.2 million acres in all, and 2.8 million of those acres — or 82% of the acres — are forested, he said.

“Oregon is still a very vibrant forest products industry,” he said. “There no better place in the entire world to grow and sustain a forest than in Oregon.”

However, he industry in Oregon is harvesting half of what it did since the listing of the spotted owl as an endangered species in 1990. Federal funds that were supposed to offset the lost revenue has been dwindling. Oregon received $240 million in 2008 but only $76 million last year, he said, while Douglas County got $44 million in 2008 but just $15 million last.

Another problem is the mismanagement of federal forest land, he said, which has played a role in wildfires.

“Roseburg and Douglas County are in the epicenter of what’s going to be more wildfires and smoke,” he said. “If you care about CO2 emissions then you should be a strong advocate of the forest products industry.”

Knute Buehler, a former state representative, said 14 of the Oregon’s 36 counties have not recovered the jobs lost during the Great Recession, and all 14 of those counties are rural.

“For too long rural Oregon has really struggled disproportionately to the rest of Oregon. A lot of rural Oregon continues to struggle mightily,” he said.

Rural communities should follow the model used by Port of Morrow, in Morrow County, and Bend, in Deschutes County. Those communities focused on seven community assets that Buehler said are essential for rural areas to grow. They are: infrastructure, financial capital, mentorship, workforce training, political/regulatory support, innovation capacity and social/recreational amenities.

Buehler also said it’s important that any solutions come from the communities themselves.

“For any strategy to work in rural Oregon the communities themselves have to own the work,” he said. “You can’t come in from afar and plant this idea in a community.”

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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