For the past two Sundays, this section of The News-Review has featured my predictions for what the biggest business stories will be in 2020. Now it’s time to turn to people who actually have direct insight into these business stories.

We asked 10 experts in various segments of the business world in Douglas County — employment, agriculture, timber and the like — to give us their predictions of what business stories will emerge in 2020. Here are there replies (some have been edited for length).

Matt Hill, Executive Director, Douglas Timber Operators: I expect that 2020 will bring us closer to final guidance from federal courts about how the Bureau of Land Management’s O&C lands in western Oregon are managed and the primacy of the original O&C Act of 1937. The current momentum in those cases call for significant increases in annual timber harvest, which would boost Douglas County’s economy as well as the timber receipts used to pay for essential social services.

Brian Rooney, Regional Economist with the Oregon Employment Department: Over the past year employment growth has slowed from 2 to 3 percent annual growth coming out of the recession to .5 to 1 percent annual growth in 2019. Some of the slowing can be attributed to a tight labor market…some of it to industries that have shown some weakness recently, especially construction and manufacturing. Health care continues to show strength and retail trade has picked up. Going forward it looks like we’ll see continued slow employment growth and low unemployment rates. Low interest rates should help housing construction and consumer spending remains strong. How the trade war affects the national economy may affect Douglas County through less demand for Douglas County products. Right now, though, it looks like continued but very slow employment growth.

Terry Brandborg, President, Umpqua Valley Winegrowers: I expect to see continued growth in both vineyards and wineries in the Umpqua Valley. The Umpqua and Rogue are the fastest growing regions in Oregon in percentage of new planting, at 10% in 2018. Umpqua acreage is now over 3,600, with 38 wineries crushing over 3,400 tons a year. In Douglas County there are nearly 800 direct wine industry jobs and more than 300 indirect jobs. The wine industry in the county paid nearly $22 million in wages, $2.5 million in property taxes and accounted for more than $100 million in revenue. The future looks very bright for Umpqua Valley wines and our region continues to gain in global recognition for the quality produced here. There are some new varieties being planted including chenin blanc, some more gamay and semillon.

Larry Rich, Mayor of Roseburg: I can think of three developments that could have a big impact on the economy here. The biggest being the medical college. If the funding comes through, that will have a huge impact on the economic and cultural changes in Roseburg. The second would be the multifamily unit developments that will occur in the areas of Douglas Avenue and Diamond Lake Boulevard. The third would be the new urban renewal district around Diamond Lake Boulevard. It takes a while for businesses to start showing up but there is always the potential it could move quicker.

Jonathan Wright, City Manager, Reedsport: The last several years have shown increasingly stronger signs of economic turnaround in the Reedsport area as new home starts and private investment trend higher with each passing year. This year alone brought an estimated $4.5 million private investment in the region, as nearly a half-dozen new businesses commenced operation here, resulting in the addition of dozens of new jobs. This trend will continue over the next few years as many of these new businesses continue to grow and mature, and as commercial vacancy continues to trend down. The need over the next year will be housing, as each job created results in increased demand. This will be a major area of focus for the Reedsport City Council in 2020.

Matthew Brady, President, Douglas County Farm Bureau: All sectors of Agriculture will continue to see pressure from the State Legislature in regulations that adversely affect our operations, in a session originally intended for budgetary fixes. There is a real disconnect between urban-based legislators and the 1% of Oregonians that produce the food and fiber that we all need to live.

Bryan Trenkle, Executive Director, Greater Douglas United Way: Housing (or lack of), at all levels, continues to be a major concern here in Douglas County. Quality and an adequate quantity of affordable housing is a key element of a stronger and more secure Douglas County.

Victoria Hawkes, Principal Broker, Hawkes & Co. Realtors: Our local housing statistics show a continuing increase in sales prices which, thankfully, are not at an outrageous rate. For 2019, at the end of November it was 4.7%. Predictions I have seen say it may be less in the coming year, perhaps in the 2% to 3% range. As for 2020, predictors write of similar increases in sales prices. Homes available for sale in our market have been skimpier than “normal” for the past three years. This often results in multiple offers, and escalating prices; great for sellers, not so much for buyers. The most difficult aspect of our market, which is repeated nearly every day in the news, is the lack of affordable housing. Our average sales prices do not help those in our community who have an “average income.” The projections for interest rates appear to remain at less than 4%, with the possibility of a 15-year mortgage being approximately 3.2%. None of these predictions are guaranteed, since we all know the daily news can change everything in a heartbeat.

Dick Heard, Board President, Umpqua Valley Development Corp.: I expect 2020 to be an exciting year for the Southern Oregon Medical Workforce Center. We anticipate focusing on site selection in the first half of the year. We are also working with Oregon Solutions on community collaboration as we develop programs and degree pathways in coordination with Umpqua Community College and George Fox University. This area has needed a center like this for a long time, and it will open the door for better jobs and medical care in Douglas County.

Wayne Patterson, Executive Director, Umpqua Economic Development Partnership: I expect George Fox University to have the most significant economic impact for Roseburg and Douglas County in 2020. This new college will impact many areas including Allied and Mental Health workforce development, local economic impact, branding and a culture shift. Other major 2020 economic impacts from The Partnership include a consolidated startup and early stage revenue business development effort through the new GrowthTalks, new County water and sewer projects to open up building of affordable housing, and continuing to build new workforce at multiple levels.

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

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