A full house at the Corvallis Country Club heard a panel of experts Wednesday discuss the economic outlook for 2014, with a state economist projecting stronger job growth in Oregon than for the nation as a whole.
Pat O’Connor, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, noted that state employment is projected to rise 2.1 percent in 2014, up from 1.9 percent last year. Nationally, jobs are expected to increase by 1.7 percent, up from 1.6 percent in 2013.
“We got hit hard during the recession, but we tend to grow faster than the nation coming out,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also noted that Benton County has grown more quickly than the rest of the state during the recession — employment growth that he attributes almost exclusively to expansion at Oregon State University.
Also on the panel of speakers for the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored session was OSU President Ed Ray, who shared information on the university’s enrollment growth and regional economic impact.
Ray, well aware that OSU growth has been a cause for concern in the neighborhoods, said that most of the university’s growth in the near term will be either in online students who never come to Corvallis or students attending classes at the Bend campus.
Ray, along with another member of the panel, Skip Rung of the Corvallis-Benton County Economic Development Commission, also spoke of the importance of OSU research to the regional economy.
Ray cited a Portland Business Journal report that showed 26 of 50 companies that grew out of state university research were from OSU.
“The basic message is that there is an incredible engine of innovation and creativity here,” Ray said. “How do we keep this going?”
That’s where Rung and the regional Economic Development Commission come in.
The group, chaired by Elizabeth French of CH2M Hill, has been working for the past two years on assisting start-ups and increasing business retention, with assistance from the new two-person Economic Development Office.
“We’re getting in the game,” said panel member Rung, who also is president and executive director of ONAMI. “We don’t have too strong a record so we have to compete and find opportunities for start-ups.”
Rung cited a series of cooperative efforts in the region, including the Willamette Innovator’s Network Expo, the Willamette Angel investment conference, the OSU Advantage Accelerator and the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network.
“The focus on economic development is a real positive thing in Corvallis,” O’Connor said. “I’m not sure the effort had been there the way it should be.
“Corvallis has done well at realizing what its strengths are — OSU and Hewlett-Packard. You don’t have to try to reinvent yourselves.”
Rhonda Wymore of the Willamette Valley Multiple Listing Service and chamber Executive Director Kevin Dwyer did a tag ream report on commercial and residential real estate.
Key trends there included a retail vacancy rate of 11-12 percent and a vacancy rate in office space of 7-8 percent. Downtown is “doing well,” Dwyer said.
Residential real estate sales are up 3.9 percent in the county to an average of $281,000, with Corvallis sales up 4.6 percent to $298,000.