With the decade ending and 2020 on the horizon, this is a good time to dust off the crystal ball and make some predictions for what the economic landscape will look like next year. Here are my predictions for the top business stories for Douglas County in 2020. Numbers 1-10 appear below; numbers 11-20 will be in next Sunday’s newspaper.
1. Forest Products Industry: The numbers speak for themselves: 6,600 direct jobs in Douglas County and an annual economic output of $1.5 billion. Yes, the industry has taken a hit in recent years — actually, longer than that — but it continues to be arguably the top economic driver for the region and should continue to be in 2020. If you don’t think timber still drives the economy here, consider this: half of the top 20 property taxpayers in Douglas County are tied to the forest products industry.
2. Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal & Pipeline: Opponents say the pipeline is a dangerous project that if approved would expose all of us to possible explosions, wildfires, landslides and damage to waterways. Supporters say those concerns are warrantless and point to the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue the pipeline could spur. One thing is clear: the natural gas pipeline, which would span 229-miles in all, including 64 miles in Douglas County, has significant economic ramifications for the region.
3. Southern Oregon Medical Workforce Center: Think about it — a private college in Roseburg. Dozens of professors and hundreds of students shopping, dining and in general spending their money here. I know it sounds far-fetched, but a lot of people smarter than me think the Southern Oregon Medical Workforce Center is a real possibility. It’s going to take a lot of money to get off the ground — $10 million has been raised but more than that is still needed. Yet the payoff could be significant — one study determined that the center’s economic benefit to the area would be nearly $40 million over a 20-year span. This could be a make-or-break year for the center.
4. Recession: Economists in the state and indeed the country are a bit jittery, but they can’t avoid the R-word. For example, John Tapogna, an economist and president of the well-regarded financial firm ECONorthwest, predicts a one-in-three chance that the country will slip into a recession 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.”
5. Housing Market: Great for homeowners, OK for people moving here from other places, not so good for middle-income wage-earners trying to get their foot in the local housing ownership door. Sales data show that 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 — home sale listings are down 20% from a year ago and the available inventory of homes for sale is currently at 3.5 months, well under the 6 months that is considered the standard.
6. Economic Development Efforts: This item is high on the list for the impact it should/could have on the region, not for what has been accomplished. The City of Roseburg is offering incentives to build apartment buildings but not much in the way of supporting business growth. The county has land available for development and is offering some incentives to lure businesses there, but so far with not much luck. The doomed Sutherlin theme park is an example of that. The Umpqua Economic Development Partnership has a list of projects it hopes to get off the ground in 2020, such as bringing a boutique hotel to Roseburg, but at this point it feels like a wish list.
7. Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians: The Cow Creek Tribe is a regional economic powerhouse yet somehow manages to largely fly under the radar. The Umpqua Indian Development Corp. is the business division of the tribe, and all of its business holdings fall under this corporate umbrella. Those holdings include Seven Feathers Casino Resort; K-Bar Ranches, which covers more than 5,000 acres of tribal properties; Seven Feathers Truck and Travel; Anvil Northwest, a marketing; Umpqua Indian Utility Cooperative; Takelma Roasting Co., which provides the coffee sold at the casino and elsewhere; and the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation, which each year hands out nearly $1 million in grants to community nonprofit organizations in Douglas, Coos, Lane, Deschutes, Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties.
8. Labor/Employment: Unemployment should continue to remain at record lows despite steady growth in the population. 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. The state is seeing job growth across the spectrum, particularly in the health care, social assistance and manufacturing sectors. The one sector where job losses are occurring is in retail, which saw 3,900 job losses in the last 12 months. Those losses are likely due to a higher minimum wage, more people shopping online and workers who would normally take retail jobs getting better paid ones.
9. Wine: The wine industry here continues to boom with no end in sight. Acres of farmland that just 10 or even five years ago were home to corn and other vegetables are now bursting with wine grapes. The Umpqua Valley now has 3,600 acres of grapes, with 38 wineries crushing over 3,400 tons a year. And it’s not just the quantity that is impressive, but the quality of wines being produced here. The wineries also draw tourists, who in turn help fill area hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and, increasingly, Airbnb rooms.
10. Tourism: Speaking of tourism — the number of visitors to the area, judging by the amount of bed taxes they pay on their overnight stays, is showing strong growth. Those bed taxes — which have increased by 40% over the last five years — are expected to get another boost with the addition of a 94-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriot in Roseburg. Tourism should also get a lift following the City of Roseburg hiring Anvil Northwest to promote tourism in the region. That task had been handled by the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce.