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Eastern Oregon job growth expected to trail behind state

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Oregon's overall job growth is forecast at 14 percent between 2014 and 2024, but as little as 3 percent in some of it's most rural counties.

SALEM — Job growth in Oregon's rural areas — particularly southeastern Oregon — is projected to trail behind the rest of the fast-growing state until 2024, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Oregon's jobs are expected to grow 14 percent between 2014 and 2024, more than double the national expected rate for that period.

But in Harney and Malheur counties, the number of jobs is expected to increase merely 3 percent until 2024. That's compared to 6 and 7 percent in neighboring counties to the north and west, which is a rate on par with expected job growth nationally.

Counties near the central Columbia River Gorge, meanwhile, are expected to see 11 percent job growth until 2024.

The outlook comes in the broader context of the slow post-recession jobs recovery in rural areas of the state.

While Oregon as a whole has made up the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, that's not the case for many of the state's rural areas — such as Gilliam and Wheeler counties. But the future may be brighter for them: Both are projected to exceed the country's jobs growth rate until 2024.

Construction, health care and professional and business services jobs are expected to grow the fastest, according to a presentation employment department officials made to lawmakers on the state's workforce committee Thursday.

The high-tech sector is also expected to continue growing — a recent dip in jobs can be attributed to layoffs in the semiconductor industry, but the overall trend is upward, said Nick Beleiciks, a state employment economist with the Oregon Employment Department.

Filling those new jobs may be a challenge in rural Oregon, too, though.

Some employers in rural areas say they struggle to attract and retain young talent, Melisa Drugge, a business development officer for Business Oregon's Eastern region, told lawmakers.

There are a number of factors at work. For example, many millennials gravitate toward urban centers with cultural amenities.

And finding adequate housing for workers in communities such as Joseph in Wallowa County — where many homes are vacation properties — is a challenge, Drugge said.

State Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, said some employers in the Columbia River Gorge are busing in workers from the Portland and Vancouver areas because they can't find or afford local housing.

"It really defeats the purpose of trying to create communities," Johnson said.